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,_. rchitecture and the Crisis of Modern
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Alberto Pérez-Gómez

The MIT Press

Cambridge, Massachusetts
London, England

1 LINIVE.'¿.j,-_• .•
1 IIIirv' E 'f?..S i C.:' :'.D _N 4C TON T


Third printing, 1985 This book was set in Palatino

by The MIT Press Computergraphics Para Alejandra
© 1983 by Department
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology
and printed and bound by Halliday
All rights reserved. No part of this book Lithograph
may be reproduced in any form or by any in the United States of America.
means, electronic or mechanical, including
Library of Congress Cataloging in
photocopying, recording, or by any Publication Data
information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the
Pérez Gómez, Alberto, 1949-
publisher. Architecture and the crisis of modem
Originally published under the titie La
génesis y superación del funcionalismo en
arquitectura, copyright © 1980 by Editorial Revised translation of: La génesis y
Limusa, S. A. Translated and revised by the superación del funcionalismo en
author. arquitectura.
Bibliography: p.
Includes index.
1. Architecture, Modem-17th-18th
centuries—Europe. 2. Functionalism
(Architecture)—Europe. 3. Architecture—
Philosophy. I. Title.
NA956.P413 1983 720'.1 82-18010
ISBN 0-262-16091-9






The theme of this book was originally presented as a doctoral

dissertation to the University of Essex, England. My greatest debt
is to my teachers, Joseph Rykwert and Dalibor Veseley. Professor
Rykwert patiently brought to bear his great erudition opon often
unfocused hypotheses, while Dr. Veseley's incisive and profound
criticism was crucial in the formulation and evolution of the major
themes. I obviously owe much to the great modem scholars who
have studied this period, often more than what I could acknowl-
edge in polemics or bibliographical references.
The subject matter of this book has been discussed with Daniel
Libeskind, Kenneth Frampton, and Werner Oechslin. I have prof-
ited from the comments and advice of Anthony Vidler and Alan
Colquhoun. In presenting the material in lectures and courses, I
was inspired by the enthusiasm of John Hejduk and the sensitive
response of architecture students at the Cooper Union School in
New York and the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. Oriol
Bohigas, Vittorio Gregotti, Antoine Grumbach, John Perry, and
Robert Griffin have offered supportive remarks and suggestions.
am particularly grateful to my colleague Bruce Webb, who kindly
read the manuscript and provided valuable recommendations. I
feel fortunate in having met, spoken, and taught with these creative
designers and artists, whose work and whose vision of contem-
porary and future architecture have aided me in defining relevant
questions and hypotheses.
During almost eight years of preparation, I have received many
insights from my students in England, Canada, Mexico, and the
United States. Among the many deserving special acknowledg-
ment are Lauren Letherbarrow, Bahram Shirdel, Steve Parcell,
Marina Stankovie, and Douglas Disbrow.

ix Acknowledgments
The staffs of various libraries have been helpful, especially
those of the University of Essex, the Warburg Institute, Biblio-
théque Nationale, and the British Library, where I did most of
Invaluable help in the initial editing of the manuscript carne
from Arthur Kristal, who gave me as much trouble as I deserved. THE CRISIS OF
The last stages in the production of the manuscript were made MODERN SCIENCE
possible through the decided support provided by the College of
Architecture of the University of Houston. I was often encouraged
by my faculty colleagues, whose excitement at facing the challenge
and the paradoxes of "the last great American city" is a strong
Finally, my appreciation to my wife, who helped with typing
and revisions, and to my daughter, who justly wondered why I
sat at my desk thinking about geometry and architecture instead
of building her a castle out of wooden blocks.

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The creation of order in a mutable and finite world is the ultimate

purpose of man's thought and actions. There was probably never
human perception outside a framework of categories; the ideal
and the real, the general and the specific, are "given" in perception,
constituting the intentional realm that is the realm of existente.
Perception is our primary form of knowing and does not exist
apart from the a priori of the body's structure and its engagement
in the world. This "owned body," as Merleau-Ponty would say,
is the locus of all forrnulations about the world; it not only occupies
space and time but consists of spatiality and temporality. The
body has a dimension. Through motion it polarizes external reality
and becomes our instrument of meaning; its experience is therefore
"geo-metrical." The extension of this "geometry of experience,"
in Husserl's phrase, beyond the body's (and the mind's) spatiality
constitutes the thrust of architectural design, the creation of an
order resonant with the body's own.
The historical awareness and utilization of geometrical form
among architects has by no mean resulted in a consistent or
universal approach to architecture itself. In fact, the malaise from
which architecture suffers today can be traced to the collusion
between architecture and its use of geometry and number as it
developed in the early modem period. An analysis of the archi-
tectural intentions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
in relation to the changing world view ushered in by Galilean
science and Newton's natural philosophy is necessary before we
can understand the dilemmas still confronted by architects. Such
an analysis becomes particularly significant in light of the prevalent
obsession with mathematical certainty in its various forms: design
methodologies, typologies, linguistic rules of formalism, any sort
of explicit or disguised functionalism. Contemporary architects,

3 Introduction
who encounter a proliferation of these forms whenever they make incapable of deriving from this tension the ultimate meaning of
design decisions, find it difficult to reconcile mathematics' demands his existence.'
for invariance (the mathemata) with their conception of architecture The elucidation of this crisis marks the writing of the most
as an art rather than a science. profound thinkers of our century, but perhaps only Husserl has
The assumption that architecture can derive its meaning from been able to reveal its unique character.6 According to Husserl,
functionalism, formal games of combinations, the coherence or the beginning of the crisis coincides with the end of classical
rationality of style understood as ornamental language, or the geometry, still a geometry of the Lebenswelt, the world as lived,
use of type as a generative structure in design marks the evolution and the appearance of non-Eudidean geometries, which occurred
of Western architecture during the past two centuries. This as- around 1800. This development in mathematics augured the pos-
sumption, whose implication is no less than the algebraization sibility that the external world of man could be effectively con-
or "functionalization" of architectural theory as a whole, the re- trolled and dominated by a functionalized theory subsumed by
duction of architecture to a rational theory, began to gain as- technology.' One result of the crisis has been an unprecedented
cendancy toward the middle of the seventeenth century, inversion of priorities: Truth—demonstrable through the laws of
culminating in the theories of Jacques-Nicolas-Louis Durand and science—constitutes the fundamental basis upon which human
his critics. Durand's functionali7ed theory is already a theory of decisions are made over and aboye "reality," which is always
architecture in the contemporary sense: replete with the modern ambiguous and accessible only through the realm of "poetics."8
architect's obsessions, thoroughly specialized, and composed of Today, theory in any discipline is generally identified with meth-
laws of an exclusively prescriptive character that purposely avoid odology; it has become a specialized set of prescriptive rules con-
all reference to philosophy or cosmology. Theory thus reduced cerned with technological values, that is, with process rather than
to a self-referential system whose elements must be combined ultimate objectives, a process that seeks maximum efficiency with
through mathematical logic must pretend that its values, and minimum effort. Once lite itself began to be regarded as process,
therefore its meaning, are derived from the system itself. This whether biological or teleological, theory was able to disregard
formulation, however, constitutes its most radical limitation since ethical considerations in favor of applicability. Modem theory,
any reference to the perceived world is considered subjective, leaning on the early nineteenth-century model of the physico-
lacking in real value.' mathematical sciences with their utopian ideals, has designated
This functionalization of architectural theory implies its trans- the most crucial human problems illegitimate, beyond the trans-
formation hito a set of operational rules, hato a tool of an exclusively formation and control of the material world.'
technological character. Its main concem becomes how to build According to Husserl, there are two dimensions from which
in an efficient and economical manner, while avóiding questions every system derives its meaning: (1) the formal, or syntactic,
related to why one builds and whether such activity is justified dimension, which corresponds to the structure of the system itself,
in the existencial context.2 The inception of functionalism coincided, that is, to the relations among its elements; and (2) the transcen-
not surprisingly, with the rise of positivism in the physical and dental, or semantic, dimension, that is, the reference of each ele-
human sciences. This set of circumstances, according to Edmund ment to the realíty of the Lebenswelt, including its historic
Husserl, marks the beginning of the crisis of European science.3 constitution.l° Although not without difficulty, Western thought
When a physician talks about a crisis in the condition of a managed to reconcile these two dimensions of logic until about
patient, he is describing a moment when it is unclear whether 1800. The radical ambiguities of existence were always explained
the patient will survive or succumb. In a nue sense, this is now by acknowledging a residual but most important mythos." It has
the condition of Western culture. In the last century and a half, only been during the last two centuries that the transcendental
man has done his utmost to define the human condition and dimension of meaning has been questioned. Culminating perhaps
ironically has lost the capacity to come to terms with it; he is in the recent structuralist approach to the human sciences, Western
unable to reconcile the eternal and inmutable dimension of ideas thought seems to be floundering in the excessive formalism of
with the finite and mutable dimension of of everyday life.4 More- systems, unable to accept the reality of specific phenomena. The
over, contemporary man, while recognizing this dilemma, seems already classic failure of C. Norberg-Schulz's Intentions in Ar-

Introduction 5 Introduction
chitecture and other applications of linguistics to architectural the- monplace. Decisions concerning planning or the establishment
ory over the past ten years reveal a passion for structural rules
of new towns, for example, continue to be made on the basis of
and their limitations. In terms of architecture, structuralism has
statistics. The immediate perception of the reality of quality of
consciously rejected the importance of the transcendental di- place is disregarded as a subjective interpretation of traditional
mension, thereby denying the importance of the historical horizon
urbanism. The evident shortcomings of such a view could not be
of meaning. more dramatic; our cities are becoming a vast world village where
The problem that determines most éxplicitly our crisis, therefore,
the extemal reality of man is at odds with man himself and whose
is that the conceptual framework of the sciences is not compatible
reason for being is to express a mute universal process embodying
with reality." The atomic theory of the universe may be true, but
the values of technology rather than to establish a meaningful
it hardly explains real issues of human behavior. The fundamental
framework for man's finite existence. The well-known failures of
axiom of the sciences since 1800, as well as of the humanities,
modern planning continue to be a source of embarrassment. And
has been "invariance," which rejects, or at least is unable to cope
still the modern professional waits for a set of objective and uni-
with, the richness and ambiguity of symbolic thought." This at-
versal standards, either formal, ideological, or functional, that will
titude is endemic to the modern crisis and is reinforced by those
determine his design and contribute to truly meaningful buildings.
scientists and intellectuals who still believe in a utopian Future,
Many years have passed since architects began their search for
who maintain that regardless of present limitations, a time will
a universal theory grounded in absolute rational certainty. Gott-
come when their specific disciplines will arrive at a full under-
fried Semper, for one, drawing on some of the insights first ex-
standing of phenomena and thereby become at last truly mean-
pressed by Durand, postulated functionalism as a fundamental
ingful for mankind. premise of architectural intentionality. In those of his writings
The consequences of all this for architectural theory are enor-
that appeared toward the middle of the nineteenth century, Semper
mous. The poetical content of reality, the a priori of the world,
clearly attempted to make the process of design analogous to the
which is the ultima te frame of reference for any truly meaningful
resolution of an algebraic equation. The "variables" represented
architecture, is hidden beneath a thick layer of formal explanations.
the manifold aspects of reality that architecture had to take into
Because positivistic thought has made it a point to exclude mystery
account; the solution was simply a "function" of these variables."
and poetry, contemporary man lives with the illusion of the infinite
This reductionist strategy has since become the fundamental
power of reason. He has forgotten his fragility and his capacity
framework of architectural theory and practice, whether one ex-
for wonder, generally assuming that all the phenomena of his
amines the forms of structural determinism or the more subtle
world, from water or fire to perception or human behavior, have
attempts to utilize psychological, sociological, or even aesthetic
been "explained." For many architects, myth and poetry are gen-
variables. More recently, various sophisticated methodologies and
erally considered synonymous with dreams and lunacy, while
even computers have been applied to design, always failing, how-
reality is deemed equivalent to prosaic scientific theories. In other
ever, to come to terms with the essential question of meaning in
words, mathernatical logic has been substituted for metaphor as
a model of thought. Art can be beautiful, of course, but only
The main problem of architectural intentionality is the genesis
seldom is it understood as a profound form of knowledge, as a
of form. Prior to the nineteenth century, the architect's concern
genuine, intersubjective interpretation of reality. And architecture,
for mathemata was never merely formal. Even the traditional Vi-
particularly, rnust never partake of the alleged escapism of the
truvian categories: firmitas, commoditas, and venustas, were not
other fine arts; it has to be, before anything else, a paradigm of
perceived as independent entities, as values in their own right.
efficient and economical construction.
Architectural intentionality was transcendental, necessarily sym-
This inversion of priorities that originated in the scientific and
bolic.'6 lis mode of operation was therefore metaphor, not math-
philosophical speculations of the seventeenth century has never,
ematical equations. Not only did form not follow function, but
at a popular level, been corrected. Although Cartesian dualism
form could fulfill its role as a primary means of reconciliation,
is no longer a viable philosophical model, faith in mathematics
one that referred ultimately to the essential ambiguity of the human
and logic as the only legitimate way of thinking is still com-

Introduction 7 Introduction
A simplistic view of human experience, derived from the pro- toward theoria, the apprehension of reality at a distance; as such,
jection of scientific models onto human reality, exemplified by it was the first symbol of reality, becoming the basic element in
certain aspects of behaviorism and positivistic psychology, has a coherent conceptual system that enabled man to disengage him-.
hampered our understanding of the essential continuity between self from the involvement of his embodied being in ritual, allowing
thought and action, between mind and body.'7 Because architec- him to come to tercos with the extemal world and his own edstence
tural theory is assumed to imply absolute rationálíty, it has been within an independent uníverse of discourse.
considered capable of standing on its own, free of all relations Originally, the knowledge of mathesis was confined to the ma-
to fundamental philosophical questions.18 Subject to the values gician. Only he dared to manipulate numerical entities, affecting
of technology, its interest is not in meaning, but in a conceptual the world on a level separated from physical reality. Traditional
or material efficiency dominating design and construction. This numbers were always material entities, never purely formal. To
naturally has created a peculiar tension between theory and prac- engage them was equivalent to tampering with the order of the
tice. Theory may work smoothly on a formal level, but it is unable real world, a powerful form of magic.
to come to tenns with reality. Correlatively, practice has been Positing the invariable in the universe of perception corre-
transformed into a process of production without existential sponded to ancient astronomical thinking. It was in the supralunar
meaning, clearly defined aims, or reference to hurnan values. Or sphere that absolute truths of Euclidean geometry were to be
else practice has ignored its connections to theory in order to found. Astronomers cliscerned in the heavens logicomathernatical
recover its poetic dimension. This last situation is evident in some systems, and throughout most of human history such invariable
of the best examples of contemporary architecture. Obviously, laws were perceived as transcendental symbols. Astronomy was
certain buildings by Le Corbusier have very little to do with stated never free of ontological presuppositions; it was traditionally as-
theoretical intentions. trobiology, with implicadons of a magical or religious nature.19
The illusion remains, however, that practice can be reduced to Reality was perceived as an organic totality directed by the reg-
a system of rational prescriptive rules. This is particularly evident ularity of the heavens, and knowledge was synonymous with the
in architectural education and obstructs our perception of how elucidation of the transcendental order of the cosmos.
the relation between theory and practice operated until the end Before the seventeenth century, the primacy of perception as
of the eighteenth century. This uniquely modem relation should the ultimate evidence of knowledge was never questioned. Ma-
not be taken for granted; it epitomizes the crisis of contemporary thesís explicitly maintained its symbolic connotations, and the
architecture. Consequently, we must examine its historical origin, hierarchical structure of the cosmos established by Aristotle re-
studying the process of the transformation of theory into a set of mained valid. It was a world of predominantly mythical character,
technical rules (ars fabricanclí) and the implicit intentions in other qualitativeiy different from our present universe of precision.
works related to architecture. An analysis of the changing meaning The discovery of theoria in Greece permitted the beginnings of
of geometry and number for architectural intentionality during architectural theory, a logos of architecture. Such theory, however,
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries will illustrate the de- always contained the necessary complement of mythos, main-
velopment of the mathematization of theory. taining it explicitly until the end of the Renaissance and implicitly
during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Alberti postu-
lated a distance between theory and practice, between design and
real building. Vignola and others, during the second half of the
he Mythical Geometry and number, prototypes of the ideal, since time im-
sixteenth century, emphasized the prescriptive character of the
lorizon memorial have been symbols of the highest order, their immut-
mies of the dassical orders rather than their meaning. Nonetheless,
ability contrasting with the fluid and changing reality of the
the Renaissance was a profoundly traditional world. Liberated
sublunar world. The concept of mathesis appeared in preclassical
from theological determinism, the architect became conscious of
Greek culture around the seventh century B.C. It referred to what
his power to transform the physical world. He was often a magus,
could be taught and learned: the invariable, the familiar, the ac-
but his intention was reconciliatory; art Was a privileged form of
cessible; its exemplar was number. Mathesis was also the first step

9 Introduction
metaphysics—rnetaphysics made into matter. Architecture was to consider their discipline a technical challenge, whose problems
not concerned exclusively with the cathedral or temple, but the could be solved with the aid of two conceptual tools, number
physical configuration of the new human world had to conform and geometry.
to the mathesis that linked microcosm and macrocosm. But in the eighteenth century, the transcendental dimension of
During the Renaissance, theory was not merely a series of tech- human thought and action was sustained through the myth of
nical precepts but was underlined by metaphysical preoccupations Divine Nature. This myth lay at the root of Newtonian natural
often implicit in the mathematical rules themselves. The mythical, philosophy. The eighteenth century rejected as fiction the closed
ancient world embodied in the writings of Vitruvius and the visible geometrical systems of seventeenth-century philosophers, but ac-
ruins was never lost sight of. In this Aristotelian world, there cepted Newton's empirical methods as universally valid. The in-
could be no split between architectural theory and practice. The fluence of Newton paved the way for the systematization and
former maintained its role as the elucidation and justification of mathematizaticin of knowledge, a knowledge that held that im-
the latter, while practice retained its primordial meaning as poesis mutable, mathematical laws could be derived from the observation
(not merely praxis), as a form of reconciliation between man and of natural phenomena, and that would eventually take on the
the world, which were perceived as the two poles of a sacred, form of nineteenth-century positivism. Implicit in eighteenth-
living totality. century Newtonianism, though to the modern mind it may seem
Geometry descended from the heavens and lost its sacred char- thoroughly empiricist, was a Platonic cosmology, usually com-
acter as a result of the episternological revolution brought about plemented by some form of deism, in which geometry and number
by Galileo's speculations during the first decades of the seven- had transcendental value and power in and of themselves. Ar-
teenth century." The "spatiality" that referred to the immedíate chitectural theory absorbed the fundamental intentions of New-
network of intentions relating man's embodied being with the tonian science, and in doing so, it sidetracked earlier developments.
Lebenswelt, and that allowed for the apprehension of his place Around 1800 a second great transformation took place. Faith
in a hierarchical order, could now be replaced by geometrical and reason were truly divorced. Scientific thought carne to be
space.2 ' At this historical juncture, geometry and number were seen as the only serious and legitimate interpretation of reality,
able to become instruments for the technical control of practical denying any need for rnetaphysics. Euclidean geometry was func-
operations and, eventually, for an effective technological domi- tionalized. Infinitesimal calculus was purged of its residual sym-
nation of the world. Through the new science of mechanics, man bolic content. Geometry and mathematics were now purely formal
began to subject matter to his will. disciplines, devoid of meaning, value, or power except as instru-
ments, as .tools of technological intentionality.22
It is around this time that the great obsessions of contemporary
Che Rational The present work argues that modern architecture, and the crisis architecture were first clearly expressed. Practice was supposed
iorizon it faces, has its roots in a historical process touched off by the to follow theory since theory now assumed that one day, through
Galilean revolution, a process whose development is marked by the fruits of mathematical reason, it would thoroughly control
two great transformations, the first of which occurred toward the design and building. Eventually, the split between thinking and
end of the seventeenth century, and the second, toward the end doing became a critica' problem. The belief in the symbolic richness
of the eighteenth. of the external world, in a Divine Nature that ultimately revealed
In the first transformation, the assumption, which had been its meaning through observation, was replaced by the notion, by
inherited from medieval and Renaissance cosmology, that number now familiar, of the material world as a mere collection of in-
and geometry were a scientia univeralis, the link between the animate objects. In such a framework, architecture could no longer
human and the divine, was finally brought into question by phi- be an art of imitation. Once it adopted the ideals of a positivistic
losophy and science. At the same time, technique and the crafts science, architecture was forced to reject its traditional role as one
were freed from their traditional magical associations. In archi- of the fine arts. Deprived of a legitimate poetic content, architecture
tecture, this laid the basis for a new approach. Architects began was reduced to either a prosaic technological process or mere

Introduction 11 Introduction FACULTADA ¿S
It was now that style, that is, the articulation and coherence dimension of human existence. In spite of its ambiguities, it has
of architectural "language," became a theoretical problem. The to be addressed through historical research.23 The illusion that
obsession to find immutable laws also invaded the field of aes- history could refér scientifically either to buildings or ideas as
thetics. But once architecture was reduced to the status of material independent data is itself part of the contemporary crisis to which
structure, even the best architects concerned with the problem of have alluded.
meaning could not avoid insurmountable contradictions. History Specifically, attention will be paid to the implications of number
of architecture itself carne to be regarded during the nineteenth used as either a technical tool or a symbol ln proportional systems,
century as the evolution of rational structure, and style, or mélange, or both. Geometry will be examined in its application to statics,
was judged on purely rational terms. The problem "In which mensuration, and stereotomy and in its use as a vehide of meaning
style should we build?" was not a problem of traditional archi- in Baroque architecture and late eighteenth-century French proj-
tecture; an invisible mathemata had guaranteed the value of its ects. I shall make a close study of French sources; I shall also
work, and a symbolic intention had generated both structure and examine, though only marginally, English and Italian sources.
ornament. Only after 1800 do we find a distinction between "nec- Although it is well known that French culture was normative for
essary" structure, that is, prosaic construction, and "contingent" Europe during this period, the discussion is concerned with the
omament; the École des Beaux Arts did not merely continue a most important ideas in the history of Western architecture at
traditional "academic" practice in France. The transformation after that time and their reference to a world view that was essentially
Durand was profound, and the illusion of stylistic continuity be- European. The connections between the architectural uses of ge-
tween the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has created much ometry and number and their scientific and philosophical contexts
confusion in our understanding of modere architecture. are crucial. It is hoped that a thorough understanding of these
Even today, architects who recognize an affinity between their relations will touch on the basic intentionality that determined
profession and art usually play formal garnes, but fail to understand the theory and practice of architecture in this period, thereby
the transcendental dimension of meaning in architecture. The casting light on the genesis of modem architecture as a whole.
lively discussions over the possibility of applying typological or Intentions have to be understood in reference to their episte-
morphological strategies in design also betray the same illusion. mological contexts." Architectural history should not therefore
Before 1800 the architect was never concerned with type or in- be filtered through a pattem of evaluation whose judgments of
tegrity of a formal language as a source of meaning. Form was success and faílure corresponds only to a latter-day ideology. A
the embodiment of a style of life, immediately expressive of culture Gothic cathedral, for example, is the City of God on earth, re-
and perhaps more analogous to a system of gestures than to gardless of contemporary religious convictions, structural preoc-
articulated language. Today architects often work under the absurd cupations, concems with efficiency and stylistic coherence, or
assumption that meaning and symbol are merely products of the opinions about useless formal elaboration. The point is to disclose
mind, that they can be manufactured a priori and that they possess the transcendental intentions that generated form. The continuing
somehow the certainty of number. conception of architectural history as a collection of material mon-
uments, classified in terms of formal style, has further obstructed
a clarification of contemporary problems.
Iistorical Method Finally, some remarks about historical rnethod. I shall address Making a case for historical interpretation would be preposterous
myself to architectural intentions, not merely to theoretical issues without drawing on the writings of such philosophers as Dilthey
or to buildings and projects understood as objects of art or products and Gadamer.25 Also, there is no question here of a neutral scientific
of materialistic deterrninism. Nothing can be gained from historical or objective fact-finding operation apart from interpretation. Cat-
perspective basing itself on simplistic formal or stylistic compar- egories derive from history, but they are ours; they cannot help
isons. Equally irrelevant is the assumption that the theory of but qualify interpretation. This cirde is not a limitation in the
architecture is a specialized discipline whose components exist in negative sense; it does not condemn history to subjectivity, but
hermetic isolation. The intentional realm is the real operating is, in fact, part and parcel of human knowledge. Even the exact

Introduction 13 Introduction
sciences are ultimately based on interpretation insofar as percep-
tion itself must affect the object being studied. The problem is to
close the circle, to come to terms with the categories of interpre-
tation. With this in mind, I have allowed the texts that I examine
to speak for themselves wherever possible, Being aware of the
dangers involved in identifying order in history, I have never- PROPORTION IN THE
theless done so convinced that this is a fundamental dimension
of historical research. SEVENTEENTH AND

4 Introduction


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Not until recently has the significance of Claude Perrault's work of science was regarded by Bacon as progress, an accumulatíon
in relation to the origins of modern architecture been properly of valuable experience gleaned from the past, to be used by a
appreciated.1 My concern will be to examine his contribution to community of intellectuals looking toward the future. Knowledge
the process of mathematization of architectural theory, the mean- could thus become a collective task of humanity, capable of being
ing of his progressive position in the famous Dispute of the An- shared and transmitted, constantly increasíng and growing. The
cients and the Moderns (Querelle des Anciens et Modernes), and result would be a single scientific tradition, a product of necessity,
the almost total rejection or misinterpretation of his work by the only true knowledge, in contrast to the long-standing conflict
eighteenth-century architects. arnong philosophical systems.'
It is important to emphasize that during the seventeenth and The "new science" of Galileo was more than just another cos-
eighteenth centuries, architectural theory was not founded on mological hypothesis; it implied a radical subversion of the tra-
independent premises but existed within an epistemological ditional astrobiological world view. The new science pretended
framework in which not even the distinction between the sciences to substitute for the reality of the live world, infinitely diverse,
and the humanities was clear-cut. Architectural theory had enjoyed always in motion and defined essentially by qualities, a perfectly
an autonomous universe of discourse since the Renaissance, but intelligible world, determined exclusively by its geometrical and
its ultimate frame of reference remained outside itself. In this quantitative properties. An idealized, geometrical nature replaced
sense, Claude Perrault's universal interests were in the best tra- the mutable and mysterious physis that man had always perceived.
dition. He was not only the author of an important architectural In Gallean thought, visible reality loses importante in order to
treatise, editor and commentator of a new translation of Vitruvius's come to terms with a world of abstractions, relations, and equa-
Ten Books, and the reputed architect of the eastern facade of the tions. In this world, truth becomes transparent, but only to the
Louvre, but possessed a brilliant and far-ranging intellect. Orig- degree to which it avoids the irregularities of lived experience.
inally trained as a physician, he devoted a great part of his life Galileo meant to describe in mathematical language the relations
to scientific research, and his understanding of seventeenth-cen- among the diverse elements of natural phenomena.
tury science and philosophy was thorough. He wrote on many Following upan the work of Galileo, scientific phenomena carne
scientific topics and participated in the activities of the Royal to be regarded not simply as what can be perceived, but primarily
Academy of Science. His achievements should not be considered as what can be conceived with mathematical clarity. Things be-
independently; a coherent intention lay behind his scientific and carne numbers, not understood as their Platonic or Pythagorean
architectural interests. transcendental essences, but as objective and intelligible forms.
Perrault's writings date from the last third of the seventeenth The book of nature was written in mathematical terms, and man
century. This was a period in the history of Western culture in began to think that he could manipulate and dominate effectively
which most implications of the Galilean scientific revolution were this objective, external reality. Galilean science thus constitutes
generally accepted. Thought was no longer perceived as a closed the first step in the process of geometrization of lived space; it
process, leading by necessity to universal truths prescribed by was the beginning of the dissolution of the traditional cosmos.
divine revelation. Modern science, as opposed to its ancient and But the seventeenth century was not positivistic. It was a time
medieval counterpart, had ceased to be a hermetic discipline whose of divided epistemology. The Platonic systems of philosophers
transcendental conclusions existed beforehand.2 In his Novum Or- were deeply rooted in an Aristotelian world. Only a few excep-
ganum, Francis Bacon denied the authority of ancient writers. tional scientists such as Galileo or Gassendi were able to realize
Qualifying traditional philosophical systems as "comedies," the lirnitations of hypotheses. In contrast to the old occult dis-
evocative of imaginary worlds, Bacon proposed a new type of ciplines, the new science would learn what knowledge was within
knowledge that derived from the observation of natural phenom- its province and what knowledge was unattainable. But this
ena and was independent of transcendental issues. This implied awareness was never universal during the seventeenth century.
the possibility of a philosophy in constant development, moving Most scientists and philosophers were simultaneously traditional
toward the utopian perfection of absolute rationality.3 The history and progressive.5 True, they all had greater confidente in the

3 Number and Architectural Proportion Claude Perrault and the Instrumentalization of Proportion
The hierarchical and animistic Aristotelian cosmos.
An image of the world provided by Cesare di Lor-
enzo Cesariano ir, his edition of Vitruvius's Ten
Books (1521).

.57 .,77 011.71 .17-1,.er

17.3. dar, /e rix .7(7, 1,7/777,7
7. e R,7,1e-ree lon.c• 3,7 nnrur

i:11;115111191PliFi.31111111111:5,,,•&iii, ...”
Claude Perrault, engraved by G. Edelink (1690). The
inscription praises his rnodesty, stating that no seaet
in nature or the ares has remained beneath his reach.

Number and Archítectural Proportion

evidence presented by mathematical reason than in the authority court. Their passionate defense of modern science, however, had
of ancient writers, which bespoke a belief in scientific progreso,' further implications.
but most philosophers still believed that mathematical thought Charles Perrault described the conflict in the Tour volumes of
constituted a privileged channel of communication between hu- his Paralléle des Anciens et Modernes.° After acknowledging in the
man minds and the divine mind. preface that there were excellent ancient authors, he quickly pro-
Cartesian philosophy and the new science of Galileo postulated claims the superiority of the modems. Charles was well aware
the initial split between the perceptual and conceptual spheres that the old order of natural philosophy had discouraged exper-
of knowledge. Afterward, Western science and philosophy con- imentation in the belief that it was sufficient to take the truth
centrated its attention on truth rather than on reality. The value from literary sources, learning from Aristotle and his interpreters.
of a system depended on its clarity and the evidence for its ideas Perrault considered this attitude to be inadequate, favoring instead
and relations. During the seventeenth century, however, the nec- the moderno who searched for the immediate knowledge of na-
essary correspondence between the ideas of the subject and the ture's works.
reality of the object was guaranteed by a benevolent God who The position of the Perrault brothers in relation to Descartes
had created the universe on the hasis of geometrical laws. Scientists is illuminating. Charles had credited this homme extraordinaire
and philosophers built vast conceptual systems based upon a with the refutation of Aristotelian philosophy, while Claude used
mechanistic logic of causes and effects that explained the phe- Cartesian models for his work in physics. But Charles also criticized
nomena of nature. But these systems were always closed and those who believed in the Cartesian system literally, assuming
concerned ultimately with final causes. that it disclosed the final causes of nature,1° Charles was referring
The notion of progressive knowledge (open to the future), em- to the system of the world postulated by Descartes in his Principies
pirical and not hypothetical, became much more explicit in the of Philosophy." As an introduction to this text, Descartes wrote a
intellectual climate of the last third of the century. The creation dissertation on the principies of human knowledge emphasizing
of the academies and the Dispute of the Ancients and the Moderns the existence of certain notions, "so clear in themselves . . that
are two very important events that embody this transformation. they cannot be learned being necessarily innate." We might
In both, Claude Perrault played a major role. question the truth of the sensible world, but can be assured that
Pen•ault was a founding member of the French Royal Academy God would never intentionally fool humanity. Since knowledge
of Science (1666) and the author of its original research programs is God given, all that we perceive clearly and distinctly, "with
in anatomy and botany.7 The academy, as well as its English mathematical evidence," must be true. The text, rejected as pure
counterpart, the Royal Society of London, regarded itself as a imagination by the eighteenth-century philosophes, is a collection
contributing factor in Bacon's each member working in of amazing and often beautiful mechanical dreams that attempt
his specific area of knowledge for the benefit of mankind The to explain all possible phenomena: from the constitution of the
importance of these new institutions cannot be overemphasized. universe to the essence of fire, magnetism, and human perception.
In sharp contrast to the Christian universities that rejected Carte- Descartes believed that his mechanistic system, one that explained
sianism during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the in a clear and distinct manner the phenomena of nature through
academies, patronized by the civil authoritites, provided an ideal causal relations, must be true and had priority over any perceptual
framework for the development of the new science. evidence.
The Dispute of the Ancients and the Modems divided French The difference between the intellectual positions of Descartes
intellectuals on the issue of ancient authority. Claude and his and the Perrault brothers had a theological dimension. Although
famous brother, the writer Charles Perrault, defended the modems. Descartes proposed that "we should prefer divine authority over
The meaning of their position is obviously complex. Some authors our reasoning,"I2 his work was condemned by the Church. This
have emphasized the literary origin of the querelle and the di- condemnation, like Galileo's famous trial, referred not only to a
mension of personality conflict it contained.8 The modems were specific philosophy or astronomical system but to the total sub-
mostly French, and the Perrault brothers were very close to the version of the traditional order. While Descartes still tried to rec-

Number and Architectural Proportion 23 Claude Perrault and the Instrumentalization of Proportion
oncile philosophy and theology in an alrnost medieval fashion,
the Perrault brothers were clearly more modern in their attempt
to separate faith and reason, thereby avoiding insorúble conflicts.
This difference in their methods reflects their positions in relation
to the ultimate validity of a priori conceptual systems. While
Descartes had criticized the open and unsystematic character of
Galileo's work," the Perrault brothers clearly recognized the lim-
itadons of closed hypothetical systems. In the epistemology of
the modem world, the sphere of transcendental causes becomes
increasingly more alien. The domain of God is outside reason.
Thought concentrates its interest on how things come about and
stops asking why. An investigation of laws, of necessary and
mathematically determined relations, was more appealing than
seeking final causes. Claude Perrault defined phenomenon as
"that which appears in Nature and whose cause is not as evident
as the thing."14
Such a distinction is symptomatic of a true protopositivism and
was evident in French intellectual circles between the last decades
of the seventeenth century and the 1730s, when the natural phi-
losophy of Newton became generally accepted in Europe. Claude
and Charles Perrault were able to distinguish truth from illusion,
dissociating scientific knowledge from mythical thought. After
discussing astronomy, telescopes, and microscopes in the Paralléle,
Charles dismissed astrology and alchemy as purely fantastic and
whimsical disciplines, lacking any real principies. "Man," he wrote,
"has no proportion and no relation with the heavenly bod-
ies . . infinitely distant from us."' Perrault made a distinction
here between the new science and traditional hermetic knowledge,
disciplines that were usually confused in the earlier part of the
century. It may be remembered that between 1570 and 1630,
approximately 50,000 women were burnt at the stake, accused
of witchcraft. Aside from sociological conditions, this atrocity was
a consequence of the confusion between magic and science, linked
to the Renaissance discovery of man's power to transform his
internal and external reality. It was only in 1672 that the minister
Colbert passed a decree stipulating the illegality of such
Charles already finds it incredible that some modern authors
do not accept the irrefutable evidence of blood circulation or the
Frontispiece of Claude Perrault's Histaire des Ani-
astronomical systems of Copernicus and Galileo. After discussing
maux (1671). This engraving by Sebastien Le Clerc the values of modem and ancient arts and sciences, including
shows the king visiting the Academy of Science. The war, architecture, music, and philosophy, he concludes that with
observatory, for which Perrault supplied the design,
is being built in the background.

Plate from Descartes's Principes de la Philosophie, il-

lustrating the different density of matter and its ef-
fects in the author's vortex theory.

25 Claude Perrauli and tho 1nnfrumpnfali7atinl, nf

the exception of poetry and eloquence, the moderns were always quired knowledge is still insufficient," while "historical physics"
superior.12 The Dispute was therefore much more than a literary collects precise information through an inductive method, being
quarrel or an apologia for French seventeenth-century authors. excessively humble and prudent.25 It is significant that in spite of
It was an affirmation of faith in progress and militant reason, a his recognition of the limitations of systems as artificial and non-
faith that rejected the type of knowledge that Descartes still upheld, transcendental, Perrault always presented his discoveries precisely
founded on belief in the transcendental power of thought and in this fashion—an attitude that could be qualified as simulta-
immediate access to divine truth. neously positivistic and traditional.
In his Essais de Physique (1680), Claude Perrault distinguished It is well known that Perrault designed very few buildings;
between theoretical and experimental physics, emphasizing the even his authorship of the Louvre Colonnade has been questioned.
secondary value of conceptual systems or hypotheses postulated Undeniable, however, is his profound influence upon successive
a priori.' Referring to the explicative systems that he himself generations of architects." Beyond his formal contributions, which
puts forward, he admits that their value does not derive from were fundamental models for-,French Neoclassical architecture,
their superiority to other similar ones; their worth is, in his opinion, is a basic architectural intentionality that can only be understood
more a result of their novelty. In this manner, Perrault admits in relation to his epistemological Presuppositions. Perrault's theo-
total freedom to the construction of hypothetical systems and retical writings on architecture, the preface and notes to his edition
even justifies the "extravagant imaginative discourses of some of Vitruvius, and his treatise, Ordonnance des Cinque Espéces de
celebrated philosophers." He believed that ultimately "truth is Colonnes constitute a fundamental point of departure for modem
but the totality of phenomena that can lead us to the knowledge architecture." Perrault questioned the most sacred premises of
of that which Nature wanted to hide. . . It is an enigma to which traditonal theory, especially the idea that it was something given
we can give multiple explanations, without ever expecting to find beforehand. In a note on his edition to Vitruvius, where he justifies
one that is exclusively true."" his use of double columns in the facade of the Louvre, he refuted
Perrault considered exactness in the inductive process to be Francois Blondel's criticism: "His main objection is founded
much more important than deductive constructions. His notion on a prejudice and on the false supposition that it is not possible
of system was no longer linked with that of a cosmological scheme; to abandon the habits of ancient architects."28 Perrault admitted
he repudiated the claim that it had transcendental power as a that opening the way for beautifulinventions could be dangerous,
clavís universalis, a key to universal reality." System now des- encouraging excessive freedom and giving rise to extravagant or
ignated merely a principie of constitution, a structural law.2' Em- capricious buildings. But, in his opinion, ridiculous inventions
phasizing his distinction between perceptually evident truths and would destroy themselves. If the law that stipulates the necessary
illusory causes, he pointed out that although many readers might imitation of antiquity were true, he wrote, "we would not need
disagree with his philosophical explorations, his Essais still con- to search for new means to acquire the knowledge which we are
tained a great number of positive and constant discoveries that lacking and that every day enriches agriculture, navigation, med-
would stand on their own." Perrault believed that it was better icine, and all the other arts."22
to accept many hypotheses to explain the different aspects of In the epistemological revolution of the seventeenth century,
nature than to try to postulate a single, exclusive explanation.23 it was knowledge as a whole that became an unfulfilled task. The
This relativistic dimension of systems is always evident in his arguments that Perrault considered convincing in scientific thought
work. True causes, he believes, are always occult, and probability were to his eyes equally valid when applied to architecture. In
can be the only result of reasoning. his preface to the Ordonnance, he concludes that "one of the first
Nevertheless, Perrault emphasized in different contexts the im- principies of architecture, equal to the other arts, is that it has
possibility of "philosophizing without putting forward proposi- not yet arrived to its final perfection."" In spite of his unques-
tions of a general character."24 He seemed to be aware of the tionable pride and his belief in the perfection of his own theory,
dilemma of modem science: "Philosophical physics reveals an Perrault expressed a desire that his conclusions on the rules of
ambition of synthesis and deduction at a moment in which ac- the classical orders could be made some day even more precise

Number and Architectural Proportion 27 Claude Perrault and the Instrumentalization of Proportion
and easier to remember. The relevance of this position, obviously
in accord with his defense of the moderns in the Dispute, cannot
be overemphasized. Notions about the perfectibility of the arts
had been expressed before, particularly during the second half
of the sixteenth century, but these were mostly echoes of ancient
doctrines. Perrault turned his face toward the future, cónceiving
his theory of architecture as a stage in a continuous line of de-
velopment in a process of ever increasing rationalization; pos-
sessing the accumulated experience of the past, modem
architecture was necessarily superior.
This truly modem ideal of a progressive architecture was one
of the most profound reasons behind the foundation of the Royal
Academy of Architecture in 1671. The direct role that Perrault
played in it has never been olear," but the academy was the first
institution devoted to the rational discussion of the fundamental
Perrault's design for the eastem facade of the Louvre problems of architecture and the structured education of future
with its controversial paired coiumns, from Quatre- architects. Traditional apprenticeship or the training in the me-
mere de Quincy's Histoire de la Vie et des Ouvrages
des Plus Célébres Architectes (1830). chanical arts provided by the medieval masonic guilds was ob-
viously inadequate." The architecture of the modern world put
an unprecedented emphasis on rational theory; the superiority
of modern architecture became a fundamental premise, and this
belief, often implicitly, is still prevalent today. The way in which
the menacing and contradictory implications of this belief were
reconciled with traditional values during the eigthteenth century
will be discussed in the following chapters.
After declaring his faith in a progressive architecture, Perrault
established in the Ordonnance a system of proportions for the
classical orders that he considered to be perfect and conclusive.
His dimensional system is truly novel. Pljecting 111 other systems
generally accepted in his own time and criticizing their complicated
subdivision of modules, he postulated a method that consisted
in dividing the major parts of the building in relation to whole
numbers. A considerable section of the Ordonnance is taken up
by Perrault's calculations of the most appropriate dimensions for
each of the parts of the classical orders. His method consists in
finding an average between two extreme dimensions, taken from
buildings, designs, or treatises by the best ancient and modem
architects.33 The arithmetic mean, a most appropriate conceptual
expression of the fuste milieu, was for Perrault a rational guarantee
of perfection. In view of the fact that he considered architecture
not determined "by proportions that might be true in them-
selves we must examine the possibility of establishing probable

Number and Architectural Proportion 29 Claude Perrault and the Instrunientalization of Proportion
dimensions, set firmly on the basis of positive reasons, but without pressect a wish to create a system of architectural proportions so
distancing ourselves excessively from the proportions that we simple and universal that it would solve the problem once and
have received and are normally used."" for all. It was to be a system that any architect, regardless of his
An examination of Perrault's text immediately betrays a great talent, could easily learn, memorize, and apply, controlling through
number of errors and discrepancies in the determination of the reason the irregularities of practice." Unquestionably, the pro-
average proportions. His mathematical calculations are ul tima tely portional rules established by Perrault fulfill his basic intentions.
immaterial since his conclusions are barely affected by them. The His petít module, a third of the diameter of a column instead of
system of dimensions postulated by Perrault is, in effect, an a the traditional semidiameter, is the regulating dimension of the
priori invention, conditioned only by the most general appearance most important elements of each orden. It allows for a sequential
of the traditional classical orders. The theory of the juste milieu relation of pedestals, shafts, capitals, and entablatures. All the
and the invocation of famous architects are only a means to render dimensions are presented as whole natural numbers, constituting
his proposition legitimate. But Perrault was fully conscious of the a system of prescriptive instructions, easy to memorize and apply.
subversive implication of his system, which amounted to an ar- In orden to achieve his objectives, however, Perrault had to
bitrary and conceptual construction that was, in essence, disres- reject the traditional symbolic implications of architectural pro-
pectful of the rules of the great masters. portion. In the same preface, he criticized the "spirit of submission
What was then the real motive behind Perrault's complex and and blind respect for antiquity" that was still prevalent in the arts
time-consuming task? In the Ordonnance, he characterized the and sciences. He then contended that, apart from the truths of
opinions of his contemporaries about the five classical orders as religion, which should not be discussed, the remainder of human
"confused." He complained that there were no certain rules of knowledge could be subjected to "methodical doubt."39 Archi-
proportion, remarking on the great discrepancies that existed tectural proportion lost in Perrault's system its quality of absolute
among the well-known systems of Vitruvius and the Renaissance truth. Numbers no longer had their traditional magic power, their
authors. Although they all depended on the same transcendental connotations as an essential forro of divine revelation. Perrault
justification, Perrault was quick to point out that the dimensional was thus able to reduce the problem to the immanent discourse
relation among the parts of the classical orders always differed of reason, and at the same time question proportion's immemorial
and never corresponded to the measurements of real buildings. role as the ultimate justification of praxis.
Although several authors of the seventeenth century, partic- Perrault also rejected the traditionally recognized relation be-
ularly Roland Freart, had already noticed this problem, it is sig- tween architectural proportion and musical harmony. In the Or-
nificant that such discrepancies were never considered a donnance, he asserted that "positive" beauty did not depend
fundamental problem before Perrault. In the Parallel of the Ancient directly on proportion, but was generatéd by visible aspects. He
Architecture with the Modern (1650), Freart wanted to demonstrate cited three fundamental categories: (1) the richness of building
how the classical orders had been used in diverse manners by materials, (2) the exactness and propriety of execution, and (3) a
different authors." But his criticism was directed precisely against general symmetry or disposition. Numerical proportions, on the
those authors who "pretended to modify the classical orders other hand, could not be accepted as a guarantee of beauty. Ac-
through fantastic interpretations." Perrault, on the contrary, crit- cording to Perrault, these changed constantly, "like fashion," and
icized "all those treatises that compared proportional systems were dependent only on custom.4° For the first inventors of pro-
from the past, without proposing a new conclusive one.' 36 He portion, imagination was the only rule, and when "this fantasie
believed that the treatises that recommended only one system changed, new proportions were introduced that were also
were better. The problem had always been that no single architect pleasing."41
"has had sufficient authority to establish laws that would be In the Paralléle, Charles also pointed out that proportions had
invariably followed."37 been modified through history. He assertively rejected the exis-
The observed divergencies became unacceptable to the critical tence of any kind of relation between human proportions and
rationalism of Perrault. In the preface of the Ordonnance, he ex- the dimensions of columns, attributing this modem belief to a

Number and Architectural Proportion 31 Claude Perrault and the Instrumentalization of Proportion
false interpretation of Vitruvius's Ten Books." Vitruvius had men-
tioned the perfection of human proportions, dictated by NatUre,
as a model for architecture. In Charles's opinion, however, this
never implied that buildings were to derive their proportions from
the human body. In a short essay on ancient music, Claude mean-
while denied the mythical perfection of this art, traditionally a
symbol. of preestablished harmony in an Aristotelian cosmos.43
In Claude Perrault's theory, architectural proportion lost for the
first time, in an expiicit way, its character as a transcendental link
between microcosm and macrocosm.
Vitruvius had recommended the use of optical adjustments to
correct the distortion of dimensions that occurred when buildings
were viewed from certain positions. This argument had been taken
up by most architects before Perrault to justify the discrepancies
between the proportions stipulated in theory and the dimensions
of real buildings. The resolution of such differences between the
ideal and the real worlds had never been a problem for architects.
They were seen as proof of the architect's ability to face the
specific character of each building task. But Claude systematically
refuted this interpretation. After showing in the Ordonnance how,
in most cases, these discrepancies between theory and practice
were not intentional, he questioned the validity of optical cor-
rections. In light of his epistemological position, Perrault was
confident in man's ability to perceive directly the undistorted
mathematical and geometrical relations in a world that is already
"given" in perspective.
Traditional optical correction (perspectiva naturalis) referred to
a world where visual aspects of perception were not assumed to
have absolute supremacy.44 The optical dimension had to be
matched to the primordial (preconceptual) embodied perception
of the world, with its predominantly motor and tactile dimensions.
In Perrault's theory, the ideal had absolute priority over physical
reality. Theory thus became a set of technical intructions whose
fundamental objective was to be easiiy and directly applicable.
Claude Perrault was obsessed with the transformation of theory
into an ars fabricandi. His proportional system clearly reveals this
intention. Due to his peculiar position in a metaphysical vacuum,
he could be more radically modern than many of his successors.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that his protopositivistic
attitude was never free from contradictions and has to be carefully
Typical illustration of the need for optical correction
qualified. Living in the time of Louis XIV, he had faith in the in design, from the first French edition of Vitruvius's
structure and ornament derived from classical antiquity. He never Ten Books by Martín and Goujon (1547).

Nurnber and Architectural Proportion

33 Claude Perrault and the TnstrumPrrtali7ntinn nf Prnnnr+inw
questioned the validity of the classical orders themselves and number of Perrault's contemporaries, both his immediate pred-
appeared to accept their essential role in architectural practice. ecessors and his successors in France and England, were prepared
He even tried to justify his new system of proportion by declaring to admit and appreciate the value of alternative systems of or-
that it only modified minimally a few details "not important for namentation, for example, Gothic and Chinese. The most im-
the overall beauty of buildings."45 Perrault's architectural intentions portant condition was always the presence of an invisible mathesis,
thus appear inconsistent on many levels. In the most profound which assured the role of architecture as a true art of imitation.
sense, however, these are already the contradictions of modern Thus the relevante of Perrault's position on this issue. The question
architecture, appearing most explicitly in Perrault's still traditional about the origins of modem architecture cannot be simply a matter
world. of evaluating the extent to which the classical orders were used
Perrault frequently resorted to the myth of ancient authority or rejected.
as a justification of his own theory. He even affirmed that his Charles Perrault was even more extreme in his Paraltéle, in
system of proportion, being the most rational, was a type originally whích he recognized the historical relativism of the forms and
recommended by Vitruvius." This antique proportion, based on ornamentation of classical architecture. He believed that archi-
whole numbers and easy to remember, had been abandoned by tectural ornament had the same character as rhetorical figure in
modern architects only because it did not coincide with the artifacts language," which is why all architecture must Use it. The merit
and ruins of antiquity. Significantly, Perrault blamed the care- of an architect, however, was not in his ability to use columns,
lessness of craftsrnanship for this lack of correspondence, imag- pilasters, and comices, but in "the placement of these elements
ining again a one-to-one relation between a rational theory and with good judgment in order to compose beautiful buildings.' 49
architectural practice. The actual form of such ornament "could be totally differ-
Perrault had defined architectural beauty in terms of its visible ent without being less pleasant, if our eyes were equally ac-
aspects. For him the visible, or the phenomenon, is clearly dis- customed to it."5° Charles seemed ready to declare that beauty
tinguished from the invisible, or the speculative cause, with the derived only from a formal or syntactic relation among the ele-
former always having priority over the latter. Perrault's theory ments of a given ornamental system. Although he never did so,
of architecture is the first in which the distante between a visible the way had been opened for others to question the traditional
form and an invisible content becomes problematical. Such a symbolic role of architecture as a whole.
disparity could only exist after the inception of Cartesianism. Clearly, the Perrault brothers believed in the perfection of their
Many of the contradictions apparent in Perrault's work derive own time." In the preface to his edition of Vitruvius's Ten Books,
precisely from his different attitudes toward the perceptual and Claude identified the Golden Age of Louis XIV with the mythical
conceptual dimensions. In terms of visibility, Perrault accepted excellence of the Roman Empire. Architecture had to be conceived
the conventional forms of traditional architecture while rejecting in terms of Roman prototypes." Perrault particula-ily admired the
the magical implications of numerical systems as the invisible richness and splendor of Imperial Rome. He believed that grand
cause of beauty. modern architecture had to recover those qualities of ancient
Although Perrault could point to the relativity of architectural building. This ideal, as well as his conviction that theory was
proportions, he never questioned the traditional symbolic con- absolutely essential, compelled him to translate and comment
notations of the classical orders. But it is important to note that upon the treatise of Vitruvius. At the time, there was no adequate
architectural meaning was never perceived in terms of a style's French edition of the Latin text, and Perrault believed that ig-
formal coherente. Perrault used the ten "Gothic order" to de- norance of the "original precepts" of architecture was a great
scribe a church in Bordeaux and admitted that French taste was obstacle to the revival of this art."
somewhat Gothic, differing from that of the ancients: "We like Perrault was aware that the rules of Vitruvius constituted only
airiness, lightness and the quality of free-standing structures."47 one possibility among many. He justified his preferente for the
His "sixth order" of coupled columns was meant to reflect this Roman by emphasizing the necessity of theoretical precepts:
taste, an obvious precedent of Neoclassical intentions. A good "Beauty has no other foundation than the imagination.... It is

NInnilnn- and Arrhityrtural Provortion 35 Claude Perrault and the Instrumentalization of Proportion

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ClaudePerraultandtheInstrumentalizationof Proportion
In Perrault's theory, proportíons were identified through as- overtones. lts objective was to guide architectural design "in the
sociation with positive beauty. He is the first architect to question least bad possible way," rejecting its traditional role as a source
the traditional belief that meaning appears immediately through of absolute certainty.
perception. Instead, he provides an associative, conceptual ex-
planation of architectural value. His understanding of perception
is already akin to that of modern psychology's: partes extra partes, Francois Blondel's Most architects of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were
which affirms the separation of optical, tactile, and auditive sen- Reaction interested more in the physical dimension of architecture than in
sations, synthesized only in the mind. ideal solutíons. Consequently, they rejected or misunderstood
Perrault invoked the authority of Vitruvius in an effort to escape Perrault's writings. His substitution of the practical realm for a
the irreconcilable contradictions of his theory. The writings of the conceptual, a priori system could not be easily admitted. Some
Roman architect were believed to embody the visible aspects of architects simply ignored the more profound implications of his
classical architecture. But proportion, the essential invisible cause, theory and considered the Ordonnance just another treatise on
became as relative as any other conceptual explanatory system the orders." Still others doubted the conviction behind his ar-
in Perrault's thought. This splitting of the architectural "phenom- gumente. It was not difficult to find discrepancies between his
enon" would be taken for granted only in the practice of nine- theory and his few but famous buildings. It is important to re-
teenth- and twentieth-century architecture. member that architectural praxis generally kept its traditional modus
Perrault never denied the importante of mathesis in architecture. operandi during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
But conscious of the scientific revolution and its implications, he Nevertheless, Perrault's writings created a significant theoretical
gave number a totally different role, using it as an operational discussion in which architects were to take sides for more than
device, as a positive instrument for simplifying the process of a hundred years. His theory was criticized initially by Francois
design or avoiding the irregularities of practice. His theory of Blondel, the engineer and architect responsible for the construction
proportion demanded absolute and direct control over the di- of several fortifications and who was the author of a course on
mensions of the orders. The fundamental intention betrayed by mathematics, a treatise on bomba, a book on the mechanism of
such use of number is totally modern. His theory pretended to clocks, and a history of the Roman calendar. Like Perrault, he
be a set of perfect, racional rules whose express objective was to wrote an influential treatise on architecture and was a member
be easily and immediately applicable. Perrault never went further. of the Royal Academy of Science. He was not only a foundíng
He did not attempt to mathematize human behavior or the struc- member of the Academy of Architecture but also the first official
tural stability of buildings, but he did lead the way toward a professor at that institution.
prógressive architecture. Progress since then has become syn- In spite of these similarities, however, Blondel's architectural
onyrnous with the further reduction of architecture to mathematical intentions were still deeply rooted in the Baroque world of the
seventeenth century. His understanding of science, philosophy,
It is well known that the technological dream of effective dom-
and mathematics is basically different from Perrault's, based as
ination of matter through number and geometry became a reality
it is on a fundamental synthesis of the perceptual and conceptual
only after the Industrial Revolution. But as soon as number had dimensions of knowledge.
lost its symbolic connotations in philosophy toward the end of
Blondel's epistemological context is indeed akin to Galileo's.
the seventeenth century, Perrault used it in his proportional system
But it must be remembered that even the Italian scientist was
with the same intention. At the time, traditional systems of pro-
incapable of discerning clearly between "true causes" and "fl-
portion were only "applied" through the personal experience of
lusions" of an observed "effect." Although he could posit isolated
the architect and were postulated, essentially, as an elucidation
discoveries without concern for final causes, rejecting the hier-
of the reconciiiatory nature of architecture and its meaning. In
archical and animistic cosmos of Aristotle, Galileo still believed
sharp contrast, Perrault's system pretended to be as perfect and
that the human mind and the world were linked. through geo-
universal as reason itself. Analogous to his physical systems, his
metrical structure, the result of preestablished harmony. It is now
set of a priori rules of proportion was devoid of all transcendental
believed that a great number of Galileo's discoveries were the

Number and Architectural Proportion 39 Claude Perrault and the Instruinentalizatinn nf Prolinrlion
founded in this epistemological context. They shared to a greater
result of "experiments" that took place only in his imagination.63
or lesser degree this necessarily ambivalent interest in geometry
In the Dialogue of the Two Sciences, Galileo pointed out that the
and mathematics.
circle was perfect not only from an aesthetic or mathematical
In the Cours d'Architecture, the first textbook for the students
point of view but also where it concerned physical science." His
at the Royal Academy of Architecture, Francois Blondel criticized
synthetic understanding of value as embodied in geometry was
Perrault's theoretical assumptions from many revealing angles.
shared by seventeenth-century artists" and architects." Galileo
Blondel reaffirmed the belief, commonly held since the Renais-
identified geometry with nature. He belíeved the idea of a sphere
sance, of the great importance of theory." Realizing, however,
or a circle was perfectly realized in each specific sphere or circle.
that the writings of Vitruvius only reflected the doctrines of the
The world was perceived as a constant materialization of geometry.
Greek architects that had preceded him and did not coincide
During the seventeenth century, the mathematical sciences became
"with the most beautiful remains from antiquity," Blondel also
a mean of achieving the most abstract, and therefore the most
provided the rules given by other excellent architects, such as
valuable, imitador: of nature.
Vignola, Palladio, and Scamozzi." His intention was to examine
Tradítional Aristotelian philosophers distinguished the quali-
and compare these rules, showing where they concurred or dif-
tative places of the central, permanently fixed world of man from
fered, in order to establish those precepts that could be more
the geometrical space of the stars and planets, which was conceived
universally accepted. This was, in his opinion, the only way to
as a truly ideal entity. The hierarchy of places of the sublunar
fashion the contemporary architect's taste. Clearly, Blondél's at-
world could be identified with geometrical space only after man
titude contrasts with Perrault's desire to establish an exclusive,
became a subject, a rational mind separated from the objective
simple, and rational system of architectural proportion. Blondel
reality of the world. Only then could man pretend that real phe-
did not believe that the difference of opinion among the great
nomena should be understood in the framework of an ideal space.
architects of the past constituted a real problem. He understood
This implied substituting an independent entity govemed by the
their writings to be essentially true insofar as they referred to the
properties of geometrical space for the original and undifferentiated
theoretical dimension of their unquestionably valuable work. The
field of intentions where reality was constituted. In the modern
problem was always one of personal interpretation. The architect
universe, bodies become aggregates of material points, behaving
had to choose the most appropriate tules and apply them in each
mathematically in an infinite and homogeneous extension.
case through his personal experience.
Seventeenth-century philosophers, scientists, and artists ac-
Blondel discussed at length the problem of optical corrections,
cepted that the book of nature was written in a mathematical
which he considered of great importance. He openly criticized
alphabet. Because the figures of Euclidean geometry related to,
Perrault on this issue. Using as evidence some famous buildings,
the perception of the real world, they were ultimately a product
he emphasized the need to adjust the dimensions of buildings so
of intuition," and thus geometry could become a scientia unív-
that their proportions might appear correctly in perspective.69
ersaiís, a symbolic science par excellence. Innate, God-given ideas
Writing in italics, he asserted that the successful determination
were believed to derive from geometrical prototypes, as was the
of the real dimensions of a building, once the increments and
divine alphabet that had been impressed on the things of the
reductions of the original proportions had been considered, was
visible world by the Creator. Seventeenth-century geometry pro-
precisely the aspect that revealed the architect's strength of intellect
vided.a link with the higher realities that gave ultimate meaning
(esprit): "The result depends more on the vivacity and genius of
to human existence. As a vehicle for the constitution of symbols,
the architect than on any rule that might be established."7°
geometry became normative in the arts, music, and literature.
Claude Perrault had rejected optical adjustments, indicating
Moreover, it became accepted as the only true mode of perception,
that the human mind immediately corrected these distortions; his
a condition that one day would provide the context for the des-
attitude was motivated by an obsession to reduce the distance
ecration and technological exploitation of the world.
between his rational theory and traditional practice. Blondel, on
Baroque architectural intentions, apart from the specificity of
the other hand, still understood theory primarily as a transcen-
their cultural embodiment, such as the diverse buildings of Chris-
dental justification of practice, recognizing a profound and non-
topher Wren, Guarino Guarini, and Francois Blondel, were

41 Claude Perrault and the Instrumentalization of Proportion

contradictory continuity between both aspects. He emphasized
the importance of personal expression and decision in architecture,
ars emphasis that Perrault's ars fabricarsdi would have gladly elim-
inated in favor of reason. The discrepancies between the diverse
systems of proportion and the real dimensions of executed build-
ings, which becarne intolerable for Perrault, were perfectly justified
in Blondel's theory.
In view of all this, it is significant to note Blondel's interest in
mathematics. His passion for geometry was much greater than
Perrault's. In a small book entitled Résolution des Quatre Principaux
Problémes de ¡'Architecture, Blondel pointed out that architecture
was, in fact, a part of mathematics.71 This was not ars uncommon
attitude among architects and philosophers of the seventeenth
century, and Blondel, for one, maintained that all that was "good
and magnificent" in architecture carne from mathematics. The
"principal" and most difficult problems were indeed propositions
concerning statics and geometry .72 He was convenced that much
would be gained if architects studied mathematics and mathe-
maticians studied architecture. The course of architecture that
Blondel taught at the academy included, aside from the rules of
the classical orders, geometry, arithmetic, mechanics, hydraulics,
gnomonics (solar clocks), fortifications, perspective, and stereo-
tomy (stonecutting),73 In his short treatise on fortifications, geo-
metrical tracings are used to determine the configuration, angles,
and location of every element according to the regular polygon
selected as a plan for the building."
Although Blondel recognized the virtue of mathematics as a
technical instrument, a careful examination of his work reveals
his inability to distinguish between the symbolic and merely tech
nical uses of geometry and number. In his book on the principal
problems of architecture, he discusses on equal terms certain "er-
rors" he has found in the mechanics of Galileo and the attributes
of harmonic proportion. Similarly, in his Cours, following upon Geometry as a transcendental revelation, discovered
the traditional rules of proportions for the classical orders is a by the philosopher Aristippus after a happy landing.
An allegory on the meaning of mathematics from J.
method for finding the dimensions of a pier or other vertical Ozanam's Récréations Mathématiques (1696).
structural element in relation to the geometry of the supported
arch or vault.75 After several impressive plates that show elaborate
geometrical methods for the determination of elliptical and par-
abolic arches, Blondel reproduced the proportions Vitruvius rec-
ommended for the design of doors and compared them to
corresponding Renaissance rules.
In the Cours, Blondel expressed his opinion about the Dispute JIRS ti.)A IN C:C1N AL
of the Ancients and the Modems. He believed that both sides FA CULT AD Jr A .1?..1-

Number and Architectural Proportion

43 Claude Perrault and the Instrumentalization of Proportion
of the greatest importance and should be clarified. He then es-
had gond arguments. Antiquity, being the source of modern ex-
pouses the contrary opinion, sharing the ideas "of most, if not
cellence, deserved to be esteemed, even venerated. But this ven-
eration should never be slavish. Adopting a very moderate all the authors that have written about architecture."s3
Both Blondel and Perrault believed in the unquestionable value
position, he concluded that "all beautiful things should be ap-
of classical architecture. Blondel could also adrnit the ephemeral
preciated, regardless of when or where they had been produced,
and mutable character of some architectural elements, such as
or who had been their author."76 Consequently, Blondel upheld
the capitals of columns, which, in his opinion, did not derive
both the perfection of his own century and that of the Roman
from nature. The pleasure these elements provided was, indeed,
Empire.22 And he could also admit, like Perrault, the possibility
dependent upon custom. But Blondel always believed that number
of progress in architecture.28 But Blondel never accepted that prog-
and geometry, the regulating principies of nature and the embodied
ress was inevitably linked with an acceptance of relative values.
The fundamental problem was not, in his opinion, the greater human being, linked both poles of the Creation and were therefore
a cause of positive beauty: "External ornaments do not constitute
or lesser merits of ancient and modern authors, but the absolute
beauty. Beauty cannot exist when the proportions are missing."84
or relative nature of architectural value. Blondel accepted the
Even Gothic buildings, according to him, could be beautiful when
existence of diverse testes and appreciations of beauty, but he
they were determined by geometry and proportion. Relying on
rejected the notion that beauty might ultimately be the result of
the traditional belief that our perception of the world is a projection
custom. He firmly believed "with most authors" in the existence
of the human body, Blondel maintained that geometry and pro-
of a natural beauty, capable of producing everlasting pleasures,
portion, being transcendental entities, guaranteed the highest ar-
a natural beauty derived from mathematical or geometrical pro-
chitectural meaning, apart from the specificity of ornament or
portions. This was true not only for architects but also for poetry,
style. For example, the bilateral symmetry in any building provided
eloquence, music, and even dance. The arrarigement and pro-
a positive delight precisely because it was an imitation of the
portion of the elements among themselves and in relation to the
whole resuited in "harrnonic unity," allowing the diverse parts disposition of a beautiful face or human body.88 While Perrault
believed that the systems of architectural proportion were not
of the work to be perceived simultaneously and without difficulty.
"true" but only "probable," Biondel's theory argued that geometry
Harmony was, therefore, the source of true pleasure."
and rnathematics, being invariable, assured the truth and beauty
Blondel devoted a whole chapter of the Cours to discussing and
of architecture at all levels; by relating man's immediate perception
proving the importance of proportion in architecture.8° He collected
of the world with absolute values, they became a tool for fulfilling
opinions of the most prestigious Renaissance authors, espousing
many of their traditional beliefs. He affirrned the existence of a architecture's fundamental symbolic role.
Also, Blondel insisted that number, in spite of its invisibility,
profound analogy between human proportions and the dimensions
was a primordial source of beauty: "Although it is true that there
of the classical orders. The proportions of buildings, therefore,
is no convincing demonstration in favor of proportions, it is also
could not be arbitrariiy altered. Commenting on Alberti's theory,
evident that there are no condusive proofs against them."86 Not
Blondel emphasized that harmony had a deep-seated relation to
content with a simple declaration, Blondel devoted a chapter of
the human soul (ame) and reason. Architecture had always tried
to follow the rules of nature, and "nature is invariable in all its his Cours to trying to substantiate his belief scientifically. The title
of this section is in itself significant: "Proofs That Proportions
aspects." Consequently, "the numbers that make sound agreeable
to the ear are the same that make objects pleasant to the eyes."" Are the Cause of Architectural Beauty and That This Beauty Is
Founded in Nature, Like That Produced by Musical Accords."87
After devoting a large section of the Cours to proving graphirally
Using as examples several well-known physical phenomena,
the existence of geometrical proportions in the most prestigious
Blondel showed how invisible causes of a mathematical nature
buildings of antiquity and the Renaissance, Blondel finally con-
(such as the relation between a force and the dimensions of a
fronted Perrault's theory. Summarizing Perrault's ideas on beauty,
lever or that among angles of incidente as in reflection and re-
Blondel categorically rejected Perrault's fundamental assumption
fraction in optics) proved and explained effects that occurred in
that "it 'netters little to architects whether the beauty of a building
the real world. Applying these observations to architecture, he
derives from nature or custom."82 This point, Blondel stated, is

45 Claude Perrault and the Instrumentalization of Proportion

Murnhpr and Architectural Provortion
wrote, "Experience has shown that there are proportions in beau-
tiful buildings that we cannot find in disagreeable ones. . . . My
emphatic affirmation of proportions as a cause of beauty and
elegante in architecture should not be surprising.. . Architecture,
being a part of mathematics, should possess stable and constant
principies, so that, through study and meditation, it might be
possible to derive an infinite number of consequences and useful
Tules for the construction of buildings.""
Blondel, however, could not distinguish between architectural ■
proportion and the mathematical laws of optics or mechanics.
Invariable geometrical principies derived in both cases "from in-
duction and experience." He was also unable to distinguish be-
tween the proportions of a building resulting from technical
.oportions in the section of Milan Cathedral, concerns and proportions motivated by aesthetic considerations.
Monders Cours d'Architecture.
His confusion contrasts with the protopositivistic lucidity of Per-
rault, who, in trying to convince the readers of his Ordonnance
that the proportions of the orders should be fixed and rational,
stated that such an achievement should not be so difficult since
"architectural proportions are not of the same nature as those
required in military architecture or the manufacture of rnachines.""
Perrault emphasized the difference between the arbitrary pro-
portions used in architecture and the necessary mathematical
strictures in other disciplines. While the dimensions of a detall
of the orders could be changed without detriment to the general
appearance of a building, lines of defense in fortifications or the
dimensions of levers had to be absolutely fixed. Perrault distin-
*lig • klrku, guished speculative cause from observed phenomenon. Blondel,
1111101414 imett• reflecting in a more conventional way the Baroque epistemological
would view, did not recognize the difference between true physical
cause and illusion, between magic and an effective technique.
Blondel realized that Perrault's theory questioned the funda-
mental metaphysical justification of architecture. His own refu-
tation of an architecture that lacked absolute principies was
obsessive. Three times he wrote in italics that the human intellect
would be terribly affected if it could not find stable and invariable
principies. Without such principlés, man could have no satisfactory
idea of unity and would be restless and anguished. Blondel was
thus compelled to support the traditional theory of proportion,
one that provided "stable and invariable principies," which in
effect justified architecture's raison d'gtre. He categorically rejected
relativism as a dangerous and senseless possibility.

47 Ciaude Perrault and the Instrumentalization of Proportion

Number and Architectural Proportion
The famous dispute between Perrault and Blondel touched upon speak only about the classical orders, betray a truly protopositivistic
a fundamental issue, one that concerned the very meaning of attitude. He was totally offlivious to the metaphysical dimension
architecture itself. The new theory, ultimately founded on the of theory.
modern mechanistic world view, was haunted by an incipient Perrault's influence appeared most explicitly in Abbé Corde-
subjectivism, which caused it to question its own ability to provide nioy's Nouveau Traité (1706),' in which the defects and bad taste
absolute and rational justifications of praxis. I have already pointed in most buildings are attributed to a lack of knowledge of the
out that during the period between 1680 and 1735, the new ep- principies of architecture.' Believing that traditional treatises were
istemology ushered in by Galileo was felt with particular intensity. - useless because it was impossible to take from them the dimensions
During the first decades of the eighteenth century, architects were and proportions of the orders, Cordemoy praised Perrault's Or-
generally very interested in technical problems and in their math- donnance: "This •book is the only one from which craftsmen can
ematical solutions.' This protopositivistic interest generally went profit. [Perraultj provided a certain and comfortable rule for the
hand in hand with criticism of traditional theory. dimensions and proportions of each order. He has even inspired
In 1702 Michel de Fremin published an astonishing little book the idea of beauty."
entitled Mémoires Critiques d'Architecture, in which he defined Cordemoy invariably avoided any discussion of the critical
architecture as "the art of building according to the object, the questions concerning the relation between proportions and beauty.
subject, and the place."2 Taking to their logical condusion some In this respect, he found Perrault "too verbose, confused, and
of the ideas expressed by Claude and Charles Perrault, Fremin rather obscure."9 He never examined in his treatise the implications
questioned, for the first time in the history of Western architecture, of proportion, except for a definition of the term that he included
the traditional primacy of the classical orders. He pointed out that in the Dictionary added to the second edition.'° After transcribing
a knowledge of the orders and their proportions constituted only some opinions of Vitruvius, Cordemoy affirmed the importance
a minimal part of what architecture truly was. of establishing a module that would allow the spectator to judge
Fremin's book deals essentially with problems of construction the dimensions of a building. This dimensional comparison per-
but also emphasizes that the architect is not a mason; his role is mitted the beauty, majesty, and impact of the building to work
to coordinate rationally all the operations of building' Fremin upon the intellect, However, Cordemoy ignored the transcendental
believed that the architect had to control mentally the totality of implications of proportion. He never seemed interested in estab-
the process of design and construction, making sure that all he lishing the actual numerical value of the module. Proportion and
imagined possessed absolute unity and coherence. He thought beauty seemed to have become problems of intellectual judgment,
that good architecture had to be rational and used Gothic examples of relative scale rather than absolute value.
to illustrate what he had in mind. Fremin preferred Notre-Dame The lack of importance that Cordemoy attributed to the issue
or the Sainte-Chapelle over the recent Baroque architecture, which of proportion is in itself significant. He reproduced in the Nouveau
he disliked and criticized, including the work of Blondel. Traité Perrault's simplified system based on the petit module, re-
Fremin was also suspicious of seductive architectural drawings peatéd the story about it being the most primitive, and blamed
that were merely nicely rendered but lacked "architectural con- defective craftsrnanship throughout history for its abandonment.
sistency."' This implied an understanding of drawing as a reductive Cordemoy also believed that mathematical precision was indis-
technical tool, an understanding that would only become wide- pensable in theory. But the meaning of proportion was not even
spread in the nineteenth century.5 While drawing had always worth discussing. He seemed to be interested in the virtues of
expressed an architectural intention, the distance between its spe- Perrault's system only as an ars fabricandi for craftsmen,
cific universe of discourse and that of "real building" had never Perrault's immediate impact can also be discerned in the work
been a problem. of Sebastien Le Clerc, whose diverse interests ranged from the
Fremin's understanding of theory, his perception "of that which formulation of a cosmological system in which he tried to reconcile
constitutes true architecture," his attitude toward drawing, and the Bible with Descartes's physics, to the invention of a curious
his derogatory comments about "insignificant" architects who theory of perception, in which only the right eye was capable of

50 Number and Architectural Proportion 51 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

clear vision." In his Traité d'Architecture (1714), Le Clerc repeated
lc Tofc in. I c Dori que. ilonicpc c Coz-india:3. IcConcpcditi-
Blonders plea for all architects to learn mathematics and its related
aszoomm. Imalmmgr
°""' •••■••1 disciplines, including mechanics, leveling, hydraulics, perspective,
ni.- me.....
i.m— ánd stonecutting."
After comparing the proportions for the classical orders rec-

I I I 1 ~
ommended by Vignola and Palladlo, Le Clerc conduded that their
az, rules were arbitrary, a product of their own taste and genius."
- He also observed that it was possible to change the proportions
• of smaller elements such as 'triglyphs and metopes without of-

9 0,
, "'.' ,

fending even those most knowledgeable in architecture. Le Clerc

insisted on the "absolute necessity of geometry" in architecture
Petíts Modules • ols 9 Diunsetres vn11011 •
and described this science as the foundation of the principies that
guide architectural practice." Like Perrault, Le Clerc distinguished
1 , 7 between a necessary "rational" geometry and the contingent pro-

36 . PetiCR Aloci ales . cm 12. 1) i ame tit s •

'e 1.

- t;
7: portions of the classical orders."

A 5 Building upon these conclusions, Le Clerc decided to postulate
his own system. Significantly, however, this is where the simi-

o i
larities with Perrault end. Le Clerc established his proportions
.A-- • through discussion and observation. Although there were often
.r. - G
9, different proportions recommended for the same order, "it is un-
1- 1 g

g • questionable that among them some are more pleasing and receive
..o . 4,

,.., universal approval."" He believed that his own personal taste
a -a
5n' Se 'II 1 could discern the better rules. Thus, instead of postulating an a

priori mathematical system, Le Clerc thought that his mies had


to be constituted a posteriori. His more humble attitude evinced

II no interest in controlling practice through a rational theory, and

on the surface his discussion of proportions seemed merely tra-

ditional. In fact, however, his thought started to reveal a different
set of epistemological presuppositions. In his theory, taste was

already capable of stemming the menace of relativism while

maintaining the possibility of reason—an early sign of the Neo-
classical world.
Arnédée-Francois Frezier, author of a famous treatise on stone-
Perrault's system of proportion, reproduced by Cor- cutting, was a long-lived architect and military engineer." Inter-.
demoy in his iouveau Traité.
ested in science and construction, he was aware that geometry
and mathematics were the basic disciplines providing the means
for the implementation of technical operations. For Frezier, ar-
chitecture was mainly a problem of rational building, and in several
literary disputes with the most famous Neoclassical theoreticians,
. he argued that arches and piers were more suitable for stone
construction than the column and lintel systems preferred by the
architects and patrons of the Enlightenment.'8 It is particularly

52 Number and Arehitectural Proportion 53 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

interesting, therefore, to observe the way in which he interpreted dangerous and thus be unacceptable to the human intellect. Build-
Perrault's ideas in his Dissertation sur les Ordres d'Architecture ing should possess not only real stability but also "visible
(1738). solidity.""
Frezier recognized along with Perrault that there were no fixed With this in mind, Frezier Applied his natural common sense
rules in architecture. Ornament changed constantly, and therefore and experience to the determination, of the maximum and min-
"it has no real beauty."" He admitted that "fashion reigns over imum acceptable proportions and attributed them to the Doric
the classical orders" and that it often determined our idea of and Corinthian orders. The proportions of the Ionic order were
beauty. But unlike Perrault, he never accepted custom as a positive obviously the juste milieu between the two extremes and resulted
force: "Fashion is not always a certain rule for judging what is from an arithmetical average of their dimensions. Frezier pointed
beautiful or deformed."2° Custom no longer deterinined a choice out that in applying this system, it becomes possible to determine
of proportions, which were then identified with "positive beauty" the proportions of the essential parts of each order: the column
through association. Instead, it became a negative factor that pre- and the entablature. The greater weight should always be carried
vented the appreciation of true natural beauty. by the wider columns. But the adjustment of dimensions, he
Frezier believed that the classical orders should be strictly sub- added, should be left to the good taste of the architect.25
jected to rational laws, which could guide architecture toward Discussing the issue of proportion, Frezier recognized the great
"purely natural beauty."21 And he believed it was possible to differences among traditional systems. Architects had chosen di-
establish such rational principies, independent of the diversity of verse modules, dividing their dimensions in extraordinarily com-
personal tastes and opinions: "Everyone would accept that the plicated ways. However, Frezier questioned the "scientific"
imitation of a natural thing is a cause of pleasure . .. and being thoroughness of his predecessors, suggesting that perhaps their
perfect, a copied object derived from a beautiful nature is a cause irrationality was intentional, "as if they had tried to complicate
of even greater pleasure than the original. . If it exists, the this frivolous issue and give an air of mystery to this art, which
universal rule of the orders should be founded on the imitation is almost totally arbitrary in that concerning the small subdivi-
of Natural architecture."" The point was, in Frezier's opinion, to sions."26 Frezier thus rejected the inveterate symbolic connotations
establish the principies of this "great art . which has often even of architectural proportion, maintaining that the dimensions rec-
been called a science" and to obtain them from the most simple ommended by architects and writers of the past were based only
things. This, in turn, would lead architecture back to its origins. on their particular tastes. Numerical relations, then, did not con-
Natural architecture was simple, like Nature itself in eighteenth- stitute a mysterious guarantee of architectural beauty.
century science. Like Perrault, Frezier believed that the "causes" of beauty should
After an evocation of primitive architecture taken froto Vitruvius, be visible and not merely speculative. But Perrault had postulated
Frezier discussed the appropriate number of architectural orders." an a priori, mathematically perfect system of proportions, em-
Inspired by the methods of natural philosophy, he declared his phasizing its formal rather tharr its transcendental dimension.
intention to reduce the number of principies to the least possible. This, of course, was the only possible scientific solution to the
Acknowledging only three ways to build: heavily, lightly, or in problem in the epistemological context of the late seventeenth
an intermediate manner, he concluded that there should also be century. During the Enlightenrnent, however, the meaning,of lije
only three orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The Tuscan and itself would become visible in the operations of Nature, as revealed
Composite, normally accepted since the Renaissance, were by the new empirical science. Frezier could therefore assert that
rejected. the principies of architecture should be founded on the laws of
Frezier believed that man had a natural idea of the proportions nature and stem invariably from observation and not from a merely
between the dimensions of a column and the weight it carried. conceptual operation.
It was obvious that columns more squat than Doric or taller than Thus Frezier established the essential proportions of his three
Corinthian could be built. But the former lacked "grace," while orders, defining the relations among the heights of columns, their
the latter, although perhaps physically stable, would appear as diameters, and the dimensions of their entablatures.27 His pro-
portions were simple, but they were never intended to become

54 Number and Architectural Proportion 55 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

a mere tool of design. They were not arbitrary but natural and tectural value. Around 1750 preference for Francois Blondel's
were therefore believed to be the most perfect, constituting a true position in the famous dispute was practically universal, whereas
source of pleasure. Even with regard to minor details, Frezier Perrault's ideas often evoked cziticísm. The most explicit refutation
ended up admitting the existence of proportions, "which it is not of Perrault's theories appeared in Charles-Etienne Briseux's Traíté
possible to alter considerably."28 The dimensions of doors and du Beau Essentiel (1752), which sought to show the falsity of
windows, for example, cannot be changed because their beauty Perrault's ideas through the opinions of prestigious writers and
"derives from a natural sentiment through which we relate every- evidence derived from "physical explanations and experience."
thing to the dimensions of our body and to our needs, even before Briseux accepted that progress in art and science wasd)rompted
reason has detennined their convenience."" To prove his point, by a healthy expression of diverse opinions, but he believed ex-
Frezier stated that if humans had the proportions of sheep or treme subjectivism was dangerous. An obstinate adherence to a
bircis, they would prefer square or circular openings. But because certain position, "frequently motivated by the false honor of de-
humans are approximately "three times as tall as . . . wide," these fending a singular system," often makes men lose sight of theír
are the proportions that are considered beautiful. This phenom- own internal convictions.32 Briseux speculated that Perrault's de-
enological retum to reality, with its emphasis on preconceptual fense of a system of proportions "that had absolutely no relation
perception as a fundamental source of meaning, would become to the beauty of buildings" might have been prompted by such
normative in the natural philosophy of the Enlightenment. human weakness. In Briseux's opinion, Perrault, perhaps offended
Frezier provided an excellent summary of his own position by Blondel, had become insensitive to his own knowledge, the
when he declared himself "only partially (de moitié) in accord opinions of other authors, and the unquestionable evidence of
with Perrault on the insufficiency of proportionl as a source of experience. What caused him the most concern was the vast in-
real beauty."3° His theory of architecture, founded on the epis- fluence he thought the Ordonnance had exerted on other architects.
temological framework defined by eighteenth-century empirical Significantly, Briseux was aware that Perrault's system of pro-
science, sought to recover an explicit, traditional interest in absolute portion never became popular with eighteenth-century practicing
value (identified with mathematics) while accepting without con- architects. The issue was not simply one of immediate application.
tradiction the increasing power of reason. Briseux understood that the potential freedom from traditional
A similar attitude was adopted by Pére André in his influential principies, implicit in Perrault's theory, had made itself felt during
and popular Essai sur le Beau (1741). André believed there were the first half of the century. The ornamental exaggerations of
two types of rules in architecture: (1) rules that were necessarily Rococo, popular after 1715, were a clear manifestation of this
equivocal and uncertain, resulting from the observations of diverse influence.33 Distinct from Baroque architecture (though certain
masters in different times; and (2) tules that were visible and formal similarities remain), Rococo eschewed theory. Only pattem
conducive to positive beauty. André thought that the proportions books were used as sources of images. Taking their cue from
of the classical orders were in the first grouP/but he also stressed Perrault, some architects felt thernselves liberated from the au-
the geometrical character of the second type of rules, which were thority of antiquity and resorted to a superficial, purely visible
"invariable like the science of architecture itself."" Essential geo- understanding of nature as a source of forms. By midcentury the
metrical principies, such as the perpendicularity of columns, par- nonmetaphysical nature of rocaille had been replaced by-the Na-
allelism of floors, symmetry, and perceptual unity, were always ture of Newtonianism, of which more will be said later. At this
to be observed. In fact, André considered all regularity, order, point, Rococo was universally condemned as decadent by the
and proportion to be attributes of essential beauty. theoreticians of Neoclassical architecture.
As the century grew older, Perrault's precocious distinction The impact of Perrault's incipient ars fabricarsdi was also felt
between technical necessity and contingent aesthetic considera- in the Royal Academy of Architecture, where discussions during
tions seemed to vanish from architectural theory. The dimensions the first half of the century dealt mainly with technical questions.
of number and geometry as technical instruments or symbols This obviously reflected the general interest of architects and
began to be perceived as complementary in considering archi- caused Briseux to complain that the true "principies of architecture"

56 Number and Architectural Proportíon 57 Systems of Proportíon and Natural Science

were no longer taught by professors who followed the banner of dusions reveal the most fundamental sources of his thought: "The
Perrault.0 Briseux considered the Ordonnance to be exceptionally rainbow provides an excellent example; its colors are dearly dis-
obscure and full of contradictions. His refutation seems traditional tinguishable, but everything is reduced to unity. According to the
at first glance. He asserted the analogy between the causes and experiments of the renowned Newton, this marvelous effect orig-
effects of beauty in architecture and music and carefully jus'tified inated from the correspondence between "the proportions of the
his belief. In music, the harmonic relations, although not generally spaces occupied by the seven colors and that which regulates the
understood by the public, were nevertheless the source of pleasure. intervals between the seven musical tones: a natural 'tableau'
Equally, in architecture, the observer did not measure "geo- that the Creator offers to our eyes, in order to initiate us in the
metrically" the building with his eyes before receiving the "sen- system of the arts.""
sation" of beauty. But "a sort of natural trigonometry" seemed By invoking the name of Newton, Briseux hoped to give le-
to play a large role in the judgment of "the spectator who possesses gitimacy to his "intuitions." It was evident that Nature always
a natural taste."" "The sensation of beauty" always depended operated with the same wisdom and in a uniform manner. There-
on the observante of proportions, whose knowledge was the fore no one could question that both auditive and visual pleasure
responsibility of the architect. consisted "in the perception of harmonic relations analogous to
Briseux firmly stated that reason underlined all those products our human, constitution" and that this principie was talle not only
of "art and Nature" that were beautiful. This is an indication of for music but for all the arts since "one same cause cannot have
Briseux's fundamental belief in a transcendental Nature and in two different effects.'"8
the absolute character of its laws. His Traité attempted to prove Briseux also stressed his rejection of Perrault's distinction be-
the visibility of harmonic proportions in architecture and to show tween the specific characteristics of visual and auditive sensations
their origin in the mathematical laws that govemed nature itself. from the point of view of the subject: "The mind is touched in
Such proportions might then be said to be "analogous" to the a uniform fashion by all commertsurable objects."" This is sig-
human intellect, which perceives them with pleasure, and thus nificant because both Briseux and Perrault dearly shared the notion
be posited as the unquestionable cause of essential beauty. of perception partes extra partes, understood as an intellectual
Briseux's text begins with a poetic glorification of Nature, "our association of sensations transmitted by independent, specific
fecund mother that leaves nothing to chance."" Nature is described senses. But Briseux, believing in the existence of a mathematical
as a projection of the human body, the ultimate model of just structure that linked the external world with the human intellect,
proportions, providing the true idea of harmony and symmetry. could "recover" the primordial sense of preconceptual, embodied,
Harmonic proportion, moreover, had its origin in nature. The and undifferentiated perception: "The mind judges all types of
famous experiments of Pythagoras, who had subdivided a string impressions in a similar and uniform way, this being an indis-
into fractions producing harmonic consonantes, clearly proved pensable necessity, a sort of law that has been imposed by
this point. Briseux then related how the andents "inferred" from Nature."4°
this observation a common principie of beauty, one that derived Briseux may not have fully appreciated the importante that
from the law of harmonic proportion, which was itself part of proportions and arbitrary beauty had in Perrault's system." How-
nature and did not depend on the visual or auditive character of ever, his main criticism was perfectly valid in his own episte-
our sensations. The human intellect, the judge of all "sensations," mological context. Perrault's proportions were not derived from
thus received from each of the senses uniformly pleasant or dis- the observation of nature, and so his system was despised by
agreeable "impressions". most architects precisely because it was totally intellectual and a
But it was dear to Briseux that "the Creator established a natural priori. This explained, in Briseux's opinion, why Perrault's rela-
sympathy between certain sounds and our emotions" that was tively small variations had "visibly altered the beauty" of the
not as explicit with regard to the inanimate objects of the visible dassical orders.
world. The traditional justification of antiquity no longer seemed Briseux accepted the existence of a diversity of tastes, but he
sufficient. Briseux was then forced to reformulate the question of always reconciled any divergences with his belief in an absolute
this relation in a more rigorous and scientific manner. His con- beauty that depended on "geometrical principies" and was derived

58 Number and Architectural Proportion 59 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

from Nature. He thought that the rules of proportion, founded centering of bridges, lock construction, methods of mensurafion,
on "calculation" and "experience," constituted invariable prin- and Gothic and Arab architecture, Boffrand, like Francois Blondel,
cipies that allowed the architect to "operate justly" and were attributed the beauty of some Gothic buildings to their just pro-
indispensable for perfecting his innate talent: "In vain have the portions. For him, the most important function of the architect
followers of Perrault pretended that there are no mies but those was to choose appropriate mies of proportions. He thought that
nature formed the germ of the arts, but that reflection and ex-
of taste.' 42 On the other hand, Briseux emphasized that it was
not sufficient to follow certain theoretical proportions literally in perience nurtured it and allowed it to develop. "Perfection derives
order to design a meaningful building. The architect's taste, per- - from an excellent imitation of the belle Nature", which was also
fected through experience, was ultimately responsible for the ap- the origin of the principies' of Greek and Roman architecture.
propriate choice of dimensions. Taste was not synonymous here Ancient models could, therefore, become once again a legitimate
with pure, arbitrary subjectivity. It was perceived by Briseux as source of meaning.
capable of correcting any conceptual system, including Perrault's. Boffrand's small treatise examines certain relations between the
Resulting from experience and the observation of Nature, it had classical orders and the different styles and genres described by
a transcendental and intersubjective character, and was thus in- Horace in his Art Poetique. His analogy was still clearly metaphoric.
capable of distorting the true natural systems of proportion. Architecture was a poetic activity in the sense of Aristotle's poesis,
In sharp contrast with the intentions of Perrault's ars fabricandi, an action with transcendental objectives, deterrnined by an implicit
Briseux never pretended to reduce practice to theory. This is evident thrust to reconcile man with a cosmic order. Boffrand's prirnitive
in the second volume of his Traité, where he illustrated his har- semiological study, however, stemmed from a belief that, once
monic proportion applied to the classical orders without the use divorced from metaphysical concerns, would become the very
of numerical dimensions. Briseux merely drew graphic scales along source of modem structuralism. The fundamental point of de-
buildings and elements of the orders demonstrating the existence parture for his work was the identity between the principies of
of dimensional relations. He did not provide specific measurements the arts and those of the sciences, both of which are founded on
or a module that might allow the translation of any illustration mathematics and geometry. Geometry, he thought, could be ap-
hito a building. It is olear that his theory deliberately kept a distante plied to any science, so that "a study of one subject can bring
from practice. Unquestionably, Briseux understood the values of new knowledge to another."44
the latter, which accounts for the apparent contradiction in his The abbé and homme des lettres Marc-Antoine Laugier, the most
statements about taste. True taste was a warrant of architectural influential theoretician of French Neodassicism, also believed that
meaning at the level of practice, and Briseux's theory was an architecture should have as sound principies as does science." In
indispensable complement and guide, not a substitute. The role the preface of Essaí sur !Architecture (1753), Laugier rejected the
of theory as a justification of practice prevails here over its utility notion of a theory reduced to an ars fabrícasdi. He stated that in
as a technical instrument. all those arts that are not purely mechanical like architecture, it
Other architects and theoreticians during the second half of the is not sufficient to know how to proceed; the author should learn
eighteenth century adopted similar altitudes. Germain Boffrand, to think. An artist should be able to explain to himself why he
for example, believed that although acceptable buildings might does what he does: "For this reason, he needs fixed principies to
be constructed without using the orders, proportions were ab- determine bis judgments and justify his choices.""
solutely indispensable:" Laugier maintained that architecture had never been founded
Boffrand, a member of the Royal Academy of Architecture and on true, rational principies. Vitruvius and all his inodern followers,
the successor of Jacques Gabriel in the leading post of the Corps with the exception of Cordemoy, had only recounted the practices
des Ponts et Chaussées, published in 1745 his Livre d'Architecture of their own times, but had never penetrated the mysteries of
along with an interesting technical study on how to cast in one architecture. To Laugier, practice often misleads artists from their
piece a bronze equestrian statue of the king. Interested in a wide true objectives: "Every art or science has a definitive objective.
variety of technical and artistic subjects, including machinery, the There is only one way of doing things right."47

60 Number and Architectural Proportion 61 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

In order to establish "evident" principies that could be the basis
of invariable precepts for practice, Laugier adopted an empirical
method. He used "experiments" and observa tions to ascertain
that the most beautiful buildings and objects produced the same
positive or negative impreslons on himself and others. After
repeating these experiments a number of times, he became con-
vinced that there were essential beauties in architecture, inde-
pendent of custom and convention."
Laugier was an eminent historian, so confident in his rational
judgment that he could criticize the traditional political status
quo." He openly adrnitted his faith in the progress and evolution
of architecture. But the abbé also believed that his Essai contained
infallible and truly fixed rules, and that his efforts to discover
"the causes of the effects" produced by certain famous and beau-
tiful buildings were totally successful. Laugier's logos was certainly
rigorous and inquisitive, thoroughly shaping his theory, but never
betraying a superficial interest in formal or technical control. His
fundamental concern was to disclose the possibilities of meaning
in an activity that appeared increasingly in crisis because of its
lack of principies but that was, according to him, crucial for the
coherence of culture. Following from his premise that there was
meaning in the world (Nature), Laugier aspired to understand the
act of creation, and thus looked back to the origins of architecture.
The final answer to his metaphysical question was necessarily a
In the first chapter of his Essai, he described the essential ele-
ments of architecture that can be derived from the primitive hut:
the architecture of man in an idyllic, unprejudiced, and natural
state. The columns, architraves, and peciirnents that constituted
the hut were put forward as the only essential, elements of ar-
chitecture. During the earlier part of the century, architects and
engineers had been more aware of the differences between the
values of firmitas (physical stability, durability) and those of ven-
ustas (beauty). Before Perrault, this fragmentation of value had
never played a role in architecture.” Striving to save meaning,
Laugier emphatically identified the fundamental parts of the clas-
sical orders (ornament in Renaissance theory) with the very struc-
ture of the building. In spite of his differences of opinion with
Frezier regarding what constituted the most rational forro of con- Frontispiece of Laugier's Essai sur ('Architecture,
showing the primitive hut as a source of architec-
struction, this attempt to reconcile the traditional values responded tural principies.
to the same concems that the military engineer had first revealed
in his Dissertation.

62 Nunrber and Architectural Proportion

63 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science
his Essai, is ultimately derived from an ordered and harmonious
The great impact of Laugier's Essai has been widely studied.51
nature whose mathemata could be evidently perceived by man.
His "essential elements" became the favorite forms of Neodassical
After Laugier, the contradictions between toste and reáson,
architecture, and his ideal church was obviously the germ of which had been posited earlier in the century by Cordemoy,
Soufflot's project for Sainte-Geneviéve, later to become the French Briseux, and the abbé Dubos, were thoroughly reconcilecl54 They
Pantheon. But Laugier also published some twenty years later a both, of course, were derived from Nature. Defending his position
second book, Observations sur (Architecture. In this Iess popular from the criticism of Frezier, who had brought up the issue of
text, he upholds the fundamental importance of proportions; this
arbitrary beauty in a review of the Essai, Laugier categorically
is so essential to architecture that, in his opinion, a well-propor- pointed out that there was an essential beauty in art, often difficult
tioned building will always produce a positive effect, independent
to define by reason, but absolutely evident to our hearts and
of the richness of its materials or omamentation.
In the Essaí, Laugier criticized Briseux for havíng invested so
The notion of .simplicity as a source of beauty underlined ar-
much effort only to prove a self-evident truth. No one with a chitectural intentions during the second half of the eighteenth
mirdmum of knowledge about architecture would deny the ne- century and appeared in many theoretical works. In his Traité
cessity of proportions." Purthermore, Laugier thought that Perrault
des Ordres d'Architecture (1767), one of the last manuals of this
had understood the absurdity of his own argument and defended type ever published, Nicolas-Marie Potain declared his intention
it only out of stubbomess, while Briseux, in his opinion, would to elucidate the origin of the five orders, which are "derived from
have fared better if he had tried to cliscover and postulate rational one common principie."" He adopted the prototype of the prim-
mies of proportion. itive hut and postulated it as a model for both the essential formal
This is precisely the task Laugier undertakes in his O bserva tions. elements of architecture and his own system of proportions. Also,
His objective is to establish the "science of proportions" on more several scientists and philosophers of that period referred to ar-
solid &rounds. A precise rational operation always has to be in- chitectural proportion in terms similar to Laugier's, for example,
volved in the choice of dimensions; mies of proportion must be Christian Wolff, whose contribution will be examined in the fol-
applied to not only the classical orders but many aspects and lowing chapter, and Leonard Euler, the exceptional mathematician
parts of a building. Laugier was critical of previous authors who who determined the equations for the buckling of columns long
had merely copied Vitruvius in their systems of proportion without before this phenomenon could be tested experimentally. In Yds
pondering their importance. He himself wished to provide an
Letters to a German Princess, Euler discussed musical harmony,
adequate justification of proportions, "raising slightly the thick rejecting its cosmological implications. However, he still thought
curtain that hides this science."" that natural proportions, expressed in small numbers, were more
His text is a rational tour de force that tries to establish a theory clear to the intellect, thereby producing a feeling of satisfaction.
of proportion based exclusively on "visual" evidence. Three criterio He maintained this was the reason why architects always followed
of judgment are put forward: The first essential requirement for that norm, using the simplest possible proportions in their works."
a correct proportion is the "commensurability" of the two com-
Compared to philosophers and hommes des lettres such as Wolff
pared dimensions, the exactness of their correspondence. The or Laugier, engineers and architects of this period obviously were
second requirement is "sensibility" and refers to the ease with more interested in technical problems. But the differences in in-
which the relationship can be perceived, 3 : 5, for example, being terest should not Nide the profound similarities of their theoretical
better than 23 : 68. The third category is the "proximity" of the
assumptions. Jacques-Francois Blondel, the most important ar-
propotional relation to the perfect ratio (1 : 1); 10 : 30 is worse
chitectural teacher in France around midcentury, still conceived
than 10 : 20. There is no further rational justification with regard
of architecture as something of a universal science. In 1739 he
to the choice of proportions. Numbers have to be simple and
instituted a school of architecture, independent of the Royal
natural. Most important, however, was Laugier's belief in the Academy of Architecture, which taught that the architect should
essential character of dimensional relations generating meaning
be knowledgeable in science, philosophy, literature, and the fine
in architecture. Proportion, hice the essential formal elements of

65 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

64 Number and Architectural Proportion
arts." And while accepting the differences between naval, civil, all that could be considered as essential in architecture had been
and military architecture, Blondel praised the achievements of discussed previously. His text is basically a compilation and sys-
Frezier, Francois Blondel, and Vauban, all simultaneously archi- tematization of the most important and prestigious theories of
tects and military engineers. the past.
Jacques-Francois Blondel's ambition may have seemed unwar- In the second volume of his Cours, Blondel systematically studied
ranted at a time when the first specialized schools of civil engi- the "distribution" in plan of different types of buildings (genres
neering (ponts et chaussées) and military engineering (génie d'édifices), such as Greek cross, Latin cross, and centralized
churches, cathedrals, markets, and convents. He was fascinated
mititaire) had already been established in Paris and Meziéres.
What is sigrtificant, however, is the great number of similarities by room combinations and their relation to land use. An interest
between the program of studies at Blondel's school and the cur- in typology led him to write the first consistent exposition on the
riculum of the two technical institutions." Blondel's course actually subject in Western architecture. In contrast to nineteenth-century
became a requirement for admission to the École des Ponts et formulations, his types never referred exclusively to utilitarian or
formal categories. His general eclecticism notwithstanding, Blondel
Chaussées." It included, aside from the theory of architecture, the
history of proportions, drawirtg, omament, and sculpture, many never affirmed that the value of a building might result simply
technical subjects, such as mathematics, geometry, perspective, from the appropriate distribution or combination of its parts in
topography, mensuration, and the properties of the conic sections plan.
necessary for stereotomy. In his Cours d'Architecture, a vast work Blondel recounted in a traditional way the story about the
that summarized his pedagogical career, Blondel added other sub- mythical origin of the dassical orders and reproduced the pro-
jects to the list, such as mechanics, hydraulics, trigonometry, prin- portional systems of Vignola, Palladio, and Scamozzi. His un-
cipies of fortification, and experimental physics "relative to the derstanding of fashion was very confused, but in the end, he also
art of building."6° considered taste as a positive criterion for the appreciation of
In the first volume of his Cours, Blondel emphasized architec- beauty. Natural taste, although innate, could be perfected through
ture's usefulness, daitning it as the basis of all works that physically the comparison of great master works, "becoming a banner to
transformed the world of man. Not only temples and public build- guide artists in all their production.""
ings but also bridges, canals, and locks fell within its province. Blondel often stated that the problem of proportion was the
Throughout the eighteenth century, engineers and architects still most interesting part of architecture." In his Cours, he tried to
shared a theoretical framework and a basic intentionality derived prove that architectural proportions were derived from nature,
from common principies, so that their individual areas of action citing the opinions of great masters. Although he could understand
were not mutually exclusive. Many civil and military engineers the differences between visual and auditive sensations, he still
such as Gauthey and Saint-Far frequently built churches and hos- believed in the analogy between architectural proportion and
Gauthey, the author of an important book on the structural musical harmony. Without mentioning Perrault by name, Blondel
analysis of bridges, also wrote about architecture and adopted criticized "those authors that have considered proportions as use-
Laugier's principies." Perronet, a renowned civil engineer and less, or at least arbitrary." Basing their theories on independent
founder of the École des Ponts et Chaussées, was also a member systems, these authors rejected fundamental laws and traditional
of the Royal Academy of Architecture. In a similar position was principies, pretending that there were no convincing demonstra-
the mathematician Camus, who wrote his Cours de Mathématiques tions in favor of architectural proportions and that a lack of in-
for the students at the academy and then saw his text adopted novation was synonymous with timidity. After measuring many
by the military schools. beautiful buildings, Jacques-Francois Blondel repeated in almost
Jacques-Francois Blondel's extensive Cours pretended to be the identical words the original refutation of Francois Blondel, con-
first truly universal encydopaedic work on architecture. The sim- cluding that the source of true beauty in architecture consisted
ilarity with the aims of the philosophes is, of course, not coinci- essentially in proportional relations, "even though it might not
dental. Blondel admitted that except for the problem of distribution, be possible to prove tthis] with the scrupulous exactness of ad-
vanced mathematics.""

Number and Architectural Proportion 67 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

In his Architecture Franpoise (1752), Jacques-Francois Blondel of French Neoclassicism, embodying that taste that admired the
tried to show how the most pleasant proportions could be de- lightness of Gothic structures and the purity and grace of Greek
termined from a comparison of the best existing buildings. In architecture. In this building, it is impossible to establish where
attempting to rationalize the problem, he established three dif- aesthetic motivations end or at what point design decisions were
ferent types of proportion. The first was derived directly from prompted by an intention to rationalize the structural system. In
human dimensions, such as the measurements of a step; the second his constant participation in academic deliberations, Soufflot dis-
referred to the structural stability of a building, prescribing, for played an interest in geometry, mechanics, geology, physics, and
example, the thickness of walls; and the third was concerned with chemistry." His best friends were famóus engineers like Perronet
beauty, being applied particularly to the classical orders." J. F. and Rondelet. Soufflot also'clesigned a machine to test the quan-
Blondel's types of proportion correspond to each of the traditional titative strength of stone. His scientific observations were instru-
Vitruvian categories: commoditas, firmaos, and venustas. His lucid mental in determining the proportions of Ste.-Geneviéve,
distinction contrasts sharply with the confusion between the aes- particularly the dimensions of the structurally critical central piers
thetic and technical attributes of proportion in Francois Blondel's under the dome." He defended the daring dimensions of his
Baroque theory. structure, claiming that they had been established through ob-
Nevertheless, J. F. Blondel always maintained that architecture servation and experimentation. In 1775 he proposed to the Royal
had access to the sphere of absolute values. He thought beauty Academy of Architecture the construction of other machines tó
immutable and felt that architects, through their Open spirit and determine the strength of metals and wood. These machines, he
sense of observation, were capable of extrapolating it "from the thought, should be made easily accessible to architects and
productions of the fine arts and the infinite variety of Nature."" engineers.
He believed that excellent buildings possessed "a mute poetry, Ali this notwithstanding, Soufflot wrote two formal papers on
a sweet, interesting, firm or vigorous style, in a word, a certain the problems of taste and proportions. His work on the identity
melody that could be tender, moving, strong, or terrible."" Just of taste and rules in architecture was initially presented to the
as a symphony communicated its character through harmony, academy at Lyons in 1744, and read at least twice in the Royal
evoking diverse states of nature and conveying sweet and vivid Academy in Paris during 1775 and 1778." According to Soufflot,
passions, so proportion acted as the vehicle for architectural there existed a reciprocity between taste and rules in architecture;
expression. Properly used, it presented the spectator with "ter- taste had been the original source of rules, which, in turn, modified
rifying or seductive" buildings, allowing for a clear recognition taste. Rules have always existed; the Greeks simply discovered
of their essence, be it "the Temple of Vengeance or that of Love."68 them. Taste and rules were found in Nature, but they could also
In an age when enlightened reason was capable of questioning be taken from excellent authors. "A force whose cause I ignore,"
the absolute. validity of the forms of dassical architecture, the writes Soufflot, "always leads me to the choice of proportions. I
.problem of meaning appeared more clearly at the level of theory. build accordingly; my work pleases and becomes a rule for those
For Blondel however, it was never reduced to the issue of evidente that come after me." If greater assurance was required, Soufflot
of style or type; it was primarily a problem of reference. Blondel recommended precise measurements of beautiful buildings and
believed that "it was ultimately unimportant whether our buildings a careful consideration of the effects produced by their proportions.
resembled those of classical antiquity, the• Gothic period, or more Soufflot believed architecture should be simple and guided by
modem times," as long as the result was happy and the buildings the "beautiful correspondence among the parts of the human
were endowed with appropriate character." Naturally, the ex- body." "Ice Pére André a few years before him, he affirmed the
pressive and poetic character of architecture was guaranteed by existente of an essential geometry, which could be perceived em-
proportion. pirically in nature and that was the origin of true beauty. Ar-
The crucial reconciliation between aesthetic and technical in- chitecture was bound to respect these universal rules, such as the
terests to which I have previously alluded is particularly evident observation of horizontal and perpendicular unes and the clis-
in the work of Jacques-Germain Soufflot," whose most significant position of weaker over stronger elements.
creation, the church of Ste.-Geneviéve, represents the culmination

68 Number and Archítectural Proportion 69 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

Soufflot's theory again reflects the fundamental paradox of
eighteenth-century epistemology: Architectural rules can be de-
termined empirically through taste only after one has accepted
the premise of a universal, immutable architectural value to whích
natural observation has access. Ignoring the relation between cul-
tural or historical context and architectural expression; particularly
explicit after the publication of Johann Bernhard Fischer von Er-
lach's universal history of architecture (1721), Soufflot rejected
formal invention: "What was beautiful two thousand years ago
is still beautiful." True beauty, in his opinion, was not "an ex-
travagant composition of ornament." Consequently, he disap-
proved of rococo, baroque, and medieval complexities. Beauty
consisted "in a perfect disposition of the most common parts"
whose forms and proportions were rerfectly known already. The
role of the architect was to combine and establish dimensional
relations between these absolutely valid classical elements, which
The church of Sainte-Genevieve in Paris, trans- would constitute the specificity of each work, its true source of
formed after the Revolution of 1789 into the French meaning.
In his Mémoire sur les Proportions d'Architecture Soufflot dis-
cussed the dispute between Perrault and Francois Blondel." Like
Laugier, he questioned the authenticity of Perrault's conviction;
both architects, in spite of their differences, had obviously created
beautiful buildings. But Soufflot, while admiring Perrault's facade
for the Louvre, unhesitatingly sided with Blondel. He thought
natural proportions did exist, differences among specific examples
notwithstanding. Discrepancies, after all, were the product of op-
tical correction and adjustments. After measuring many famous
churches, including some Gothic structures, Soufflot concluded
that their general proportions were approximately the same, a
product of nature, not custom, and, as in music, constituted a
true cause of pleasure.
Soufflot was well aware of the works of Galileo and was capable
of using mathematics as a formal instrument in his speculations
about statics and structures. His predilection for quantitative ex-
perimental results in problems of strength of materials and his
ability to disregard the experience embodied in prestigious build-
ings of the past and the authority of famous architects seems to
betray the attitude of a positivistic engineer. The truth, however,
is that Soufflot's positions in relation to both aesthetics and me-
chanics were derived from a belief in .a mathematically ordered
nature. Scientific observation and experimentation yielded quan-
titative results that led to the establishment of absolute laws. In
a similar way, a transcendental taste had access to the rules of

71 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

70 Number and Architectural Proportion
proportion implicit in the same elemental Nature; architecture, a
metaphor of divine creation, should therefore be simple and thor- to self-evident or at least probable truths, capable of satisfying
oughly ruled by number. And the truth and beauty of any building both taste and reason, and the impossibility of subjugating the
were endorsed by the presence of number. human intellect to determinations whose principies were not de-
Soufflot's most severe critic was Pierre Patte, also an architect rived from nature.
and prolífic writer, who was mainly interested in the technical Patte thought that the architect faced problems similar to those
problems of building." In the introduction of his most important of an artist trying to determine geometrically exact relations be-
work, Mémoires sur les Objets les Plus Importans de l'Architecture tween the features of a beautiful face. The mathematical law
(1769), Patte emphasized that except for the problem of proportion, existed; the problem was #o discover it from the observation of
on which there was no universal consent, the remainder of ar- nature.
chitecture still needed to be expounded. In his opinion, the most From this point of view, Patte devised a devastating criticism
essential, useful, and necessary part of architecture was construc- of Perrault's Ordonnance. Acknowledging Perrault's intention to
tion, which still lacked principies. This aspect, Patte conceded, "reconcile the differences between theory and practice, " Patte
had been traditionally understood by masons. But it was imperative maintained that Perrault had failed. He attributed this failure to
ir> study its principies in a more profóund way "from a philo- his predecessor's belief that neither reason or good sense nor the
sophical point of view." imitation of nature constituted the foundation of beauty. Patte's
Among the many chapters devoted to clarifying technical prob- interpretation of Perrault's ideas is peculiar and significant. Per-
lems of architecture and urbanism, there is one that addresses rault's understanding of proportion as arbitrary, dependent solely
the proportions of the classical orders. Patte does not question on custom, amounted in Patte's opinion to an absolute negation
the fact that "proportions constitute the essential beauty of ar- of the existente of positive beauty in architecture."
chitecture," and in an earlier work he had drawn a connection Perrault had tried to justify his new rational system by idea-
between proportion, character, and rnorality.' He thought that tifying it with a mythical, perfect, ancient system that had been
beautiful buildings ruled by proportions would inspire noble and ruined by the carelessriess of craftsmen throughout history. Patte
even religious feelings. The problem was to determine what these never took this claim seriously. He thought Perrault's theory was
proportions actually were. Patte was convinced that if this became only an extreme example of what had always happened in ar-
possible, architecture would, achieve perfection. chitecture, perpetuating the discrepancies between theory and
practice. But Patte agreed with Perrault in his assessment of optical
He rejected outright the ancient metaphoric identification of
corrections. It was absurd to pretend, like Blondel had, that true
columns with the haman body, relating the former to the "dis-
beauty might be derived from those adjustments. Thus Patte em-
position" of trees. Repeating Frezier's argument, he replaced the
phasized the modem intention to establish a fixed and immutable
Vitruvian myth of the genesis of the classical orders with a theory
system of proportions capable of controlling practice.
based on the intuitive mechanics of primitive building. According
Both Patte and Perrault shared a concern to solve the problem
to Patte, the Egyptians had used very heavy columns; it was the
of architectural proportion through scientific method. The great
Greeks who gave columns a thickness relative to their heights
differenceS between them corresponded precisely to their divergent
and to the loads they had to bear. Thus, he thought, were es-
tablished the natural proportions of the orders. But here begin beliefs regardíng the origin of knowledge in science and its ac-
cessibility. Patte declared that instead of trying to establish new,
the problems. Like Perrault, Patte worried about the discrepancies
between theoretical systems of proportion and the dimensions of ideal systems, inevitably condemned to fail, it was preferable to
real buildings. Even during Vitruvius's lifetime these problems define methods for the determination of optimal proportions
through practice. Only then would it be possible to postulate a
existed, and all subsequent attempts to reconcile the differences
had failed. Patte attributed this failure to the lack of absolute truly rigorous system, capable of reconciling different opinions
rules of proportion, which architects had never been able to es- in one rational whole. Patte believed that Perrault's system was
tablish. Two great difficulties existed: finding principies leading erroneous and had never been used because "it was false that a
proportional mean could produce in any case the most agreeable
effects, coinciding with true perfection."

72 Number and Architectural Proportion

73 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science
Le Camus was convinced that "there was only one beauty,"
Patte distinguished, as did Perrault, between observed phe- which could be found in the purity and harmony of proportions.
nomena and speculative causes. Nevertheless, he rejected the But he never provided a system of dimensions that could be
possibility of inventing a priori systems, choosing instead the
applicable to practice, only some traditional advice and the sug-
empirical method of natural philosophy. While both authors
gestion to avoid irrational or excessively small proportions, which
wished to define the mathematical principleS of architecture, Patte might be confusing. In a more radical way than his predecessors,
was the more patient. He repudiated the Platonism of Perrault
Le Camus rejected the possibility of an ars fabricandi concerriing
and insisted that proportions should be derived from nature. Nu-
the fundamental problem of proportions. The immutable mathesis
merical relations were assumed to be visible. For Patte, then,
was indispensable in architecture, but it could not be made syn-
numbers recovered their transcendental dimension and could be onymous with a set of rules. Harmony, wrote Le Camus, is only
postulated as the fundamental means for the imitation of nature,
accessible to the genius: "It is a spark of Divinity whose smallest
still architecture's task.
reflection carnes the imprint of a dazzling source."8°
The system that Patte finally put forward after his rigorous
Le Camus tried to provide genek prescriptions for the design
scientific disquisition was, perhaps not suprisingly, eclectic, con-
of buildings with true character, something he perceived as lacking
fused, and rather disappointing. He established six orders: "richt
in the work of his contemporaries. Because natural phenomena
or ornamented, and "simple" versions of the three main dassical could produce sensations such as happiness, sadness, sublimity,
-orders. Evidently, Patte had greater faith in his method than in
and voluptuousness, he exorted architects to capture these effects
the result. Empirical science progressed to the degree to which in their forms. Meaning in architecture had to be attained through
observations were accumulated and systematized. He believed a careful study of Nature. Proportion was understood as the es-
that any system based on his method was assured of becoming sence of beauty because number constituted the most explicit
truly objective, producing real satisfaction.
form of a natural harmony pregnant with poetry, the ultimate
The last architect whose work I examine in this chapter is Nicolas source of architectural expression. Proportion alone could "cast
Le Camus de Meziéres. Between 1780 and 1782 he published
that spell that overwhelmed our souls."8'
three books, two concerning technical problems and the other
Le Camus was aware of the critical importante of his theory
dealing with harmonic proportion. In the introduction to his Traité
and defended it, not without anguish, from the menace of rela-
de la Force de Bois, after mentioning several buildings that had
tivism. He wrote, "Architecture is truly harmonic....Our prin-
suffered structural failures, Le Camus pointed to the existence of
cipies about the analogy of architectural proportions with our
mathematical laws derived from the science of mechanics. These
sensations are derived from those of the majority of philoso-
laws, in his opinion, should always be respected. In his book, he
phers. ."" These principies constituted, in the words of Le Ca-
conunented upon the results of many experiments made by Buffon
mus, "the metaphysics of architecture," upon which followed its
on the strength of wooden beams. Although he did not provide
progress. The ultimate meaning of architecture depended on the
analytical methods for structural design, his intention was tech-
existence of these absolute, natural principies.
nical: the systematization of experimental resulta with the purpose
After such an emphatic declaration, it is not surprising to en-
of designing wooden structures scientifically.
counter a violent criticism of Perrault's theory. Indeed, Le Camus
In apparent contrast to this attitude, Le Camus emphatically
thought Perrault was mistaken in his belief that "immutable pro-
defended the value of harmonic proportion in Le Génie de ('Ar-
portions should not exist, that taste alone should decide," that
chitecture. Architecture, in his opinion, should have "character,"
too many strict rules restricted and sterilized the genius of the
indicative not only of its type but also of its internal composition.
architect." Le Camus identified Perrault's theory with relativism
Each room in a building is meant to have particular qualities, so
and contested it by establishing a circular argument that was
that our desire for other rooms may be stimulated: "This agitation
noncontradictory only in the context of eighteenth-century ep-
occupies the intellect and keeps it in suspense."" According to
istemology: It was imperative to establish "immutable points of
Le Camus, the objective of architecture is to move our souls and
departure," laws that might set limits to our imagination, which
excite our sensations. And this could only be achieved through
in itself was licentious and incapable of self-restraint. Le Camus
the use of harmonic proportion.

Number and Architecture! Proportion

75 Systems of Proportion and Natural Scieme
UN1 f..)A.11:1 uN AL
was obviously referring to the fundamental philosophical prin- sidered by historians of art, architecture, and engineering since
cipies of architecture, not to an invariable, merely prescriptive, they assumed that their respective disciplines evolved as auton-
theory. ornous entities. Architects, engineers, and philosophers of the
Among the traditional works admired by Le Camus were Ouv- Enlightenment explicitly identified the principies of architecture
rand's treatise on harmonic proportion and the commentary on with those of science, presuming a fundamental analogy in the
the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel by the Jesuita Prado and Vilial- methods and sources that led all hurnan disciplines to the at-
pando, who illustrated how the Corinthian order and classical tainment of truth.
proportions were derived from the Temple of Solonnon in Jeru- The science of the Enlightenment was the natural philosophy
salem." But he also praised the more recent work of another of Newton. After 1735, when his methods and prémises were
Jesuit, Pére Castel, who had been fascinated by Newton's díscovery generally accepted in Europe, Newton appeared as a hero of
of the mathematical laws of optics and had composed a treatise superhuman dimensions, having solved once and for all the
to prove the analogy between the harmony of color and music." enigma of the universe. Many popular versions of his philosophy
Castel built an organ, or ciavecin oculaire, in which a special appeared in different languages, and he became a venerated figure
mechanism produced colora relative to the notes played. The among philosophers, scientists, poets, engineers, architects, and
instrument was admired by the composer Telemann and also by even priests. His scheme of the universe became a model for all
Le Camus, who saw in it a proof of his own theories. The colors disciplines, including aesthetics and architectural theory.
appeared in harmonic succession, he wrote, charming the sight It might be said that during the Enlightenment, the science of
of a well-educated man with the same magic of the well-combined Newton took the place of philosophy. Rejecting as fictitious the
musical sounds that enchanted his hearing.86 great deductiva metaphysical systems of the seventeenth century,
Newton declared that science should not make hypotheses or
substitute reality as it presenta itself to our senses with. false or
Number in The major architects and theoreticians of the French Age of Reason fantastic representations. Natural philoáophy, for Newton, con-
Natural ultimately accepted the mythical belief in proportion as the source stituted a compendium of laws that attempted to explain the
Philosophy of beauty and values. Looking back, what can we say about this behavior of the physical world in mathematical terms and was
reactionary attitude that always rejected the protopositivism of deduced from phenomena through induction and experimentation.
Perrault and adopted Francois Biondel's traditional position? First, His principies were presented as a discovery of mathematical
this preference cannot be interpreted as a mere revival or survival relations in the observed phenomena. And it was precisely his
of Renaissance theories. Modem historians of architecture have great success in establishing a connection between mathematical
felt the need either to ignore or to isolate this attitude, perceived theory and the experience of everyday life that allowed his natural
as curious and extraneous to the dominant characteristics of the philosophy to be perceived as the final refutation of traditional
period, which was an ever increasing rationalism and metaphysics.88
interest in technology. Newton always tried to explain with the smailest number of
But Neociassical architecture is not merely a dogniatic and ra- principies the diversity of phenomena in the real world, reducing
tionalist precedent of contemporary practice. The theory behind them whenever possible to one universal law. His model of the
this architecture was still prepared to accept an implicit but fun- cosmos became the only acceptable system for eighteenth-century
damental mythical dimension, one that allowed reason to elucidate epistemology: a systematization of knowledge through the ob-
the basic metaphysical questions of architecture while still avoiding servation of nature, rejecting a priori hypotheses while searching
contradictions." The increasing rationalization evident in archi- for and finding general principies and often a universal mathesis.
tectural intentions during the second haif of the century was only Newton seemed quite capable of distinguishing between final
the most conspicuous sign of architecture's adoption of the meth- causes and the mathematical laws derived from quantitative ob-
ods and principies of natural philosophy. The full meaning and servation and understood as simple formulations of the empirical
implications of thiá assimilation have never been seriously con- world. Alluding to the essence of gravity, he declared his interest
in establishing the phenomenon's mathematical law, not in dis-

76 Number and Architectural Proportion 77 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

Particularly after Einstein, it became abundantly dear that
cussing "the cause of its properties." Consciously eschewing me-
Newton's "empirical science" worked precisely because it started
taphysical or transcendental questions, he often disclosed the
from hypothetical and absolute premises. The existente of in-
autonomous formal character of scientific discourse." Conse-
dependent, geometrical, and absolute space and time was, indeed,
quently, he rejected all symbolic connotations of mathematics and
an a priori postulate, indispensable for the-success of bis physics.
seemed prepared to use it as an instrument for resolving problems
In Newton's most important work, The Mathematical Principies
in physics. His discovery of infinitesimal calculus derived from
of Natural Phiiosophy, observed phenomena from the world of
this specific practical consideration, which contrasts markedly with
everyday life were explained as relations of geometrical bodies
the symbolic and universal implications that Leibniz, its almost
in an abstract, empty, and truly infinite space. Newton•was aware
simultaneous codiscoverer, saw in it. For Newton, the origin of
that the concept of absolute space was obviously not the space
geometry was not intellectual but practical; geometry was only
of human experience, and so there seems to be an unavoidable
a part of universal mechanics, whose objective was "to postulate
contradiction emerging frdm the simultaneous adoption of an
and demonstrate with precision the art of measurement.""
empirical method and the hypothesis of absolute time and space.
Around 1750 many scientists and philosophers could criticize
In Newton's philosophy, however, absolute time and space were
the mathematical exterior, or geometrical form of thought, that
not merely formal mathematical entities implicit in the experi-
purportedly had guaranteed absolute truth in the philosophy of
mental method. They were unquestionable premises precisely
the previous century. D'Alembert, for example, disapproved of
because he perceived them as transcendental manifestations, as
the work of Euler, Spinoza, and Wolff precisely because their
symbols of the omnipresente and etemity of almighty God. "God,"
ideas were structured more geometrico. Mathematics apparently
wrote Newton, "endures forever and is everywhere present; and
could be conceived as a mere formal system of relations, with no
by existing always and everywhere, He constitutes duration and
inherent meaning.
space.. . . In Him are all things contained and moved; yet neither
Having proved experimentally the imaginative intuitions of
Galileo, Newtonian physics presented a definitive formulation of affects the other."93 This "primary existing being," whose "em-
anative effect" is space-time, was consequently responsible for
modem epistemology, becoming a model for all future knowledge.
the order, regularity, and harmony of the structure of things."
Newton seemed able to recognize truth from illusion, objective
Newton believed His intervention was required constantly, but
science from subjective speculative philosophy. He made available
most particularly, of course, when man was confronted by irregular
a relation between theory and practice in which the formen aspired
phenomena that could not be easily explained within the frame-
to be no more than a mere description of the technical means of
the latter and not a discussion about its meaning. This opened work of his universal law.
During the eighteenth century, God was still required in the
the way for positivism, or the possibility of acquiring the truth
universe of theoretical discourse, and Newton's natural philosophy
about things without a concomitant theory concerning their na-
simply took the place of the traditional metaphysical systems as
tures. Or, more simply, the Newtonian schema encouraged the
a foundation of religion. In fact, Newton believed that science
belief that it was possible to know a part (meaningfully) without
would necessarily lead to a true knowledge of the "first cause."
knowing the whole."
Although correct from the point of view of its consequences, This belief became commonplace among writers, scientists, and
this interpreta tion of Newton's thought is totally inadequate in artists; it was interpreted literally in Craig's Mathematical Principies
its own terms. The great British scientist devoted much of his life of Christian Theology and in Derham's Astro theology, andina more
to alchemy and theology, concerning himself with the Rosicrucian sophisticated and rational fashion by Voltaire and Buffon. The
texts and the archetypal Temple of Jerusalem.92 His theological religious principies of natural philosophy were also practically
writings were criticized even during the eighteenth century, but identical to those of Freemasonry, the most popular "religion"
the fundamental metaphysical presuppositions of his natural phi- of the Enlightenment after 1725," and scholars have pointed to
losophy were implicitly and thoroughly assimilated into all the the great interest and often dear affilia don of eighteenth-century
scientific endeavors of the Enlightenment. architects with this society."

78 Number and Architectural Proportion 79 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

The law of universal gravitation summarized the quantitative retained, often surreptitiously, but always forcefully, their essential
essence of the cosmos. One principie explained the motions of role in the realm of theoretical discourse. The order manifested
the heavenly bodies and those of any object in the sublunar by the mathematical regularity evident in nature became an im-
world. The order of Newton's universe depended upon the exis- mediate symbol of divine presence in the world of man. Physical
tence of. gravity, yet there existed only a relatively small amount reality, although excluding all supematural phenomena, was still
of matter in motion within an infinite and homogeneous space. capable of revealing the ultimate meaning of human existence.
How then could gravity account scientifically for the essential Newtonian physics was evidently successful in the experimental
order? Attraction had been a common enough concept in the field. This was instrumental in the arts and sciences of the En-
astrobiological cosmos of antiquity and the Middle Ages, which lightenment adopting both its methods and its implicit beliefs.
explained it as a projection of human affection. Animism and During the eighteenth century, most thinkers rejected the tra-
inexplicable forces, however, had been rejected by seventeenth- didonal link between human and divine reason, generally re-
century scientists, who attempted to explain motion mechanically, nouncing all hypotheses and the authority of ancient texts and
that is, as the result of immediate and direct physical actions. envisioning truth as the goal of experience. In this sense, enlight-
Newton was unable to explain the nature of gravitational force, ened reason was more humble than Baroque philosophy, believing
but he appeared willing to accept action at a distance through a that truth belonged in the world and was part of empirical reality.
vacuum. He conceived of gravity as substance, not merely as a The task of theory was to disdose the rationality evident in the
mathematical formulation. Gravity could only occur in the absolute natural order. This meant that such operations were never merely
space that is God; its universal mathematical law was postulated motivated by a technological interest, but were grounded in meta-
as a consummate symbol of divine existence. physical necessity. In short, the ancient myth of preestablished
Deep within Newton's empiricism was a Platonic cosmology. harmony was now revealed to man through experimentation and
He believed that after having created the great masses composing technical action.
the universe, God put them in motion within Himself. The creation The use of inductive methods began to be seen in all disciplines
of matter from pure space is a notion that appeared in Plato's as a guarantee of absolute certainty and meaning: Newton had
Timaeus. This is also Newton's ultimate source for his under- shown that such methods could reveal the mathematical wisdom
standing of the corpuscular structure of matter and the properties of Creation. This was a not gratuitous hypothesis, but a fact ac-
of its particles, a conception he shared with other Neoplatonic cessible to immediate perception. Man could now presuppose the
philosophers, in particular, Henry More. Newton allotted occult integral rationality of reality and assume its validity in any branch
properties to particles in his Opticks in order to justify the ultimately of theory. The new empirical method and the systematization of
successful hypothesis of the structural similarity between electricity knowledge became an indispensable stage in the process by which
and gravity. Inspired by Newtonian empiricism, Condillac wrote theory was transformed into an effective instrument of techno-
that physical science consisted in "explaining facts by means of logical domination in the nineteenth century. The samé empiri-
facts." Paradoxically, nothing couid be further from this than cism, however, gave renewed priority to practice (rather than
Newton's own natural philosophy. theory) and permitted the symbolic perception of nature. All those
Newton's philosophy was based on the proposition that number immutable principies that reason "discovered" through the ob-
and geometry were the essence of external reality, their only true servation of nature were seen as a manifestation of divine will.
form. But having rejected seventeenth-century metaphysical sys- The reason of the Enlightenment could come to terms with radical
tems, and recognizing the limitations of formal thinking, he opted problems of meaning only because it had deep roots in the mythical
for inductive methods and asserted that knowledge should always realm.
derive from the observation of reality. This created the belief in The method of natural philosophy put a new emphasis on the
the poSsibility of demonstrating the mathematical and geometrical embodied perception of the physical world. Knowledge about life
essence of reality through the observation of nature. The meta- became inseparable from sentiment, differentiated but consciously
physical preoccupations implicit in Newton's traclitional cosmology integrated in artistic manifestations. The perception of the universe

80 Number and Architectural Proportion 81 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

principes, often impossible to describe, but postulated emphatically
was truly symbolic, capable of apprehending meaning behind the
presence of reality, and thus avoiding the menace of subjectivism. as a necessary source of architectural meaning. Apparently sub-
Nature was the place where all human values were to be found, jective notions like taste, once it was established that they orig-
a transcendental reality full of life and movement, where God, inated in Nature and experience, could be invoked as absolutely
man, and things were subject to mathematical harmony. This objective reasons in favor of theoretical árguments.
fundamental belief prevented theory from becoming an instrument Perhaps the most explicit work on "Newtonian aesthetics" was
of technological domination; man always felt the need to reconcile Abbé Batteux's Les Beaux Arts Réduits a un meme Principe (1746).
himself with Nature. He believed that taste was the foremost principie of the fine arts
During the eighteenth century, man thought he was capable and that these disciplines 'ere therefore never subject to chance.
of discerning the hand of God in His work through the discovery Batteux stated that "taste is for the arts what intelligence is for
of mathematical and geometrical laws that betrayed His presence. the sciences."" He thought that the intellect had been created in
God no longer inhabited a supernatural sphere from which He order to know truth and to love goodness and that we should
communicated with the human rnind; the Creator of the Enlight- simply let our hearts choose freeiy. Each aspect of human con-
enment was a force that endorsed the perpetual miracle of every- sciousness had, in his opinion, a legitimate objective in nature.
day life. Corresponding to this transformation of divinity, geometry Even symmetry and proportion were determined by the laws of
and mathematics, which had lost their symbolic power with the taste.
end of traditional metaphysics after Leibniz, recovered it from a Once the transcendental dimerision of mathematical reason is
Divine Nature. Paradoxically, this recovery was precipitated by established, it becomes evident that there were no contradictions
the growing interest in technical problems that revealed the pres- between the technological and the traditional interests of eigh-
ence of a symbolic mathematical harmony through quantitative teenth-century architecture. In fact, the true meaning of Neo-
experimentation. classical architecture can only be understood after accepting the
Architecture had traditionally depended upon geometry and radical coherence of its technical and aésthetic dimensions. In a
number to vouchsafe its role as an immecliate form of reconciliation similar way, taste reconciled the lightness of Gothic with the
between man and the world, between microcosm and macrocosm. purity and grace of classical architecture. It is therefore futile to
During the second half of the eighteenth century, architectural attempt an 'elucidation of Neoclassical architecture as a juxta-
theory, sharing the basic premises, intentions, and ideals of New- position of formal styles, systems, or the specialized interests of
tonian philosophy, adopted an implicit metaphysical dimension. architects and engineers.98
The results appeared as a passionate defense of traditional po- After 1750 numerical proportions recovered their traditional
sitions, strengthened by a consciousness of the power of reason role in architectural theory. An ever increasing empiricism brought
to control practical operations. Deriving its fundamental principies architecture constantly closer to nature. Architects strived to imitate
from Nature, architectural theory was capable of maintaining its the belle Nature, finding it increasingly more simple. This process,
customary role as a metaphysical justification of practice. Thus which I shall try to clarify from diverse perspectives in the fol-
while respectfully modifying Nature, building praxis remained lowing chapters, already shows the great impact that the Galilean
poesis, the character of which was determined primarily by its revolution had upon architectural intentions during the seven-
reconciliatory aims. teenth century and the basically traditional frarnework of eigh-
During the eighteenth century, rationality in architectural theory teenth-century theory and practice. It should already be clear that
was capable of disclosing differences of taste and opinion, ques- modern architecture did not appear around 1750 and that it was
tioning the absolute value of the classical orders, the authority not simply generated by the Industrial Revolution. The process
of ancient and Renaissance texts, and even the specific myths of transformation of theory hito an instrument of technological
that explained the genesis of forms. In the end, however, architects domination started with modern science itself. Nevertheless, after
and theoreticians did not accept subjectivism and relativism. In adopting the humility of natural philosophy, the architecture of
the Last decades of the century, theory became a set of grands the Age of Reason became motivated primarily by a symbolic

82 Number and Architecture, Proportion 83 Systems of Proportion and Natural Science

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Guarini preferred mathematical reason and empirical observation
could also open the human intellect, increase its capacity of at-
to ancient authority. Nonetheless, his deep roots in a traditional
tention and guide its imagination.6
cosmology kept him away from any relativism. For Guarini, ab-
Guarini's geometry had all the implications of an ars combi-
solute rules constituted a fundamental point of departure in
natoria, the traditional science of permutations that was accepted architecture.
during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as a true mirror of
Like Francois Blondel, Guarini believed that optical corrections
perceptual reality. These logical systems were believed to possess
were necessary to compensate for the distortions caused by per-
a magical transcendental dimension, endorsed by God or His
spective; and believing that a primary aim of architecture was to
agents. Generally, this was still the logic of seventeenth-century please and seduce our senses, he further developed the rules for
metaphysical systems.' All that any human could aspire to vías
opticaf correction. Nevertheless, he cautioned that architecture
a knowledge of relations; thus the geometrization of knowledge
should never go to the extremes of perspective illusionism. A
was perceived as an urgent task. In Guarini's work, philosophy,
delicate balance had to be maintained since perspective was con-
astronomy, physics, theology, architecture, engineering, and po-
cerned only with delight and disregarded the structural stability
etry all converged in geometry.8 Geometry symbolized the highest
and solidity of buildings. Guarini thought that architecture to be
values, but it was not opposed to nature. It possessed simulta-
truly pleasant must possess a "real symmetry" that.did not attempt
neously celestial and terrestrial connotations; it was both the sci-
to fbol our sight." Architecture had to be governed by a rational
ence of the stars and topography. Geometrical form guaranteed
geometry capable of providing stability to the building, but also
the truth of theory, while geometrical operations were used as a
a geometry whose combinations and figural transformations could
tool for the transformation of the world, reinforcing the traditional
generate symbolic form and space. In this way, the ultimate
meaning of practice.
meaning and beauty of architecture depended on the implemen-
Guarini's treatise, entitled simply Architettura Civile, represents
tation of geometrical operations.
the first attempt to postulate a theory of architecture subject totally
A major part of Architettura Civile was devoted to the description
to the laws of geometry and mathematics. There were some prec-
of geometrical combinations and manipulations, applied to all
edents to his mathematization of architectural theory, but these
aspects of design and construction. The principies of geometry
were understood as part of the wider context of intellectual dis-
provided by Guarini were strictly Euclidean." Guarini did not
ciplines. Guarini himself cited as an important source C. F. Milliet
use the incipient projective geometry recently discovered by his
Dechales's Cursus seu Mundus Mathematicus (1674), an immense
contemporary Girard Desargues, of whom more will be saici later.
compendium of knowledge more geometrico that included archi-
The postulate of the nonconvergence of parallel fines was defended
tecture. In his Architettura Civile, however, Guarini not only as-
by Guarini in the Architettura, where he emphasized the impor-
serted that "architecture depends upon mathematics and
tance of intuition in a thoroughly Aristotelian vein. His geometry
geometry" but also emphasized that it was a "flattering art" that
was never an abstract mathematical discipline, but depended on
should never disgust the senses in order to please reason.' Thus
an intimate relation with the figures (the square, the triangle, the
Guarini defines the essence of architecture to be the synthesis of
pentagon, and so forth) as perceived initially by our senses. In
mathematical reason and sensuous qualities. Architecture de-
this respect, Guarini's edition of Euclid's Elements is significant.
pended on rules derived from mathematical reason and empirical
Although this was a treatise on geometrical theory, every single
experience, with no possible contradiction between the two.
operation, including the most simple arithmetical ones, was pre-
Moreover, Guarini thought that both the structural safety of
sented graphically. Algebra was conspicuously absent. The specific
buildings and their beauty and proportion, being the most im-
image of each problem was obviously considered essential, making
portant objectives of architecture, derived from the same rules.
Guarini's geometry not only visible but also tangible, a true science
Guarini accepted the possibility of correcting and modifying
of the real world. Only such a conception of geometry could lead
the architectural rules of antiquity and perceived the discrepancies
him to assert that "the miraculous creativity of distinguished
that existed between Vitruvius's theory and many important
mathematicians shines intensely through regal architecture.""
buildings of the past. In accordance with the new epistemology,

91 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning

90 Geonzetry and Architectural Meaning
Stereotomic tracings, from Guarini's Architettura
Civile. In his Architettura Civile, Guarini established a strictly geo-
metrical method for determining the proportions of the classical
orders, avoíding numerical relations. He cited as his source the
work of a rather unknown figure, Carlo Cesare Osio, who had
published his own Architettura Civile in 1684.13 Osio's treatise
was devoted entirely to the teaching or application of geometry
as an instrument in drawing the five classical orders. After showing
how to divide a straight line into a .given proportion with the use
of the compass, Osio provided detailed instructions for the design
of any classical element by means of that simple operation. Al-
though Osio apparently believed in the importance of proportions,
it is significant that he never mentioned the great authors of
antiquity and disragarded the issue of which were actually the
most correct dimensions, Osio declared that his sole aim was to
put forward a simple method that would facilitate architectural
r} ue
-4" f
s The traditional concerns of architectual theory, although am-
biguous, were more explicit in Guarini's text. The section on the
orders was introduced by showing how to trace some "necessary"
curves, such as the spiral and the sinusoid. But then Guarini
reproduced Vitruvius's story about the origin of classical forms
and their proportions, "derived from the human stature."" Com-
pared to previous treatises, the issue of the classical orders was
given much less importance by Guarini, who subordinated every-
thing to geometry. And although he believed that beauty depended
on proportion, he was skeptical about the possibility of finding
what actually caused pleasure in a well-proportioned and sym-
metrical elevation. He implied that there was an invisible cause,
but obviously distrusted number. He defined proportion as a just
correspondence betweer the parts and the whole; but rather than
implying a perfect Renaissance fit, his intention was only to avoid
excessively large or smáll pieces. After providing some general
rules for the disposition of the orders and pointing out how dif-
ferent authors had divided the module into diverse units, he pro-
posed to divide it into twelve parts for purely practical reasons.
Guarini was aware of the conflicting opinions regarding the
orders and their proportions. Although he pretended to respect
the authority of certain prestigious authors, quoting them as
sources for his own recommended proportions, his own three
orders are highly original inventions. Their ornamental detall,
which is more exaggerated and conspicuously less abstract and
geometrical than that of his sources, attempts to realize the com-

92 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 93 Geometricat Operations as a Source of Meaning

plexities of natural (particularly vegetable) shapes. These plates
appear striking, placed as they are between stereotomic projections
and manifold geometrical applications. The fundamental coher-
ence of Guarini's theory, impossible to appreciate adequately
through the contrast of his rhetorical naturalistic omamentation
and his concern for precise geometrical methods, becomes explicit
once the symbolic sense of his geometrization of architecture is
fully comprehended.
Technical problems were extensively discussed in Architettura
Civile. Guarini described methods for leveling and topographic
surveying in which buildings were treated as additions of geo-
metrical elements; walls, domes, and columns were actually ad-
dressed as geometrical bodies. A similar transformation is evident
in a little book that Guarini wrote specifically on the problem of
measurement in buildings. His Modo di Misurare le Fabriche was
conceived as the practical application of the principies he had
developed in his Euclides. In it he provided methods for measuring
and determining the cubic volumes of any part of a building,
even of those elements that were hardly regular. However, there
is no allusion to any real problems of building; after a brief in-
troduction to mathematics, Guarini merely explained how to
measure areas and regular volumes.
After discussing the geometrical nature of vaults, Guarini de-
voted a whole section of his Architettura to stereotomy. The use
of geometrical projections to determine the shapes and propor-
tional dimensions of wooden or stone elements of domes, arches,
vaults, and stairs had been first introduced into architectural theory
by Philibert de l'Orme during the sixteenth century. Guarini em-
phasized the importance of stereotomic tracings, whose complexity
led Rudolph Wittkower to underline the "mechanical" dimension
of his architecture. It is clear, howéver, that Guarini's plans never
required any sort of projective geometry to be realized in three
dimensions.'5 His stereotomy never implemented the discovery
of Girard Desargues, as some scholars have imagined;'6 the sig-
nificance of this will become clearer from the perspective of later
chapters. Guarini's geometry was not a descriptive geometry; every
problem generated its own method, as was the case in the tra-
ditional treatises of Derand and De l'Orme."
Unlike previous Renaissance treatises, Guarini's subjected all Details of composite capitals, from Guarini's Archi-
tettura Civile.
the technical operations of architecture to geometry. This modem
attitude, nevertheless, has to be carefully qualified; its meaning
can only be understood in relation to the crucial role that geometry

95 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning

94 Geolnetry and Architectural Meaning

11 1. 1,1,
played in the totality of his work. Architecture for Guarini com- thority of the ancients as the source of ultimate justifications in
bined the objectives of seventeenth-century science and philos- architecture; it became, in fact, a metaphysic, transforming the
ophy. His architectural intentions were totally coherent, without world of man into a symbolic universe. Architectural historian
conflict or distance between his artistic and scientific interests. have commonly regarded the technical dirnension of these geo-
•Geometry was used by Guarini as a precise technical tool; it metrical operations as a curious but mistaken precedent for statics
was an instrument, a set of operations, but always implemented and structural mechanics. Thinking in terms of formal styles, they
to achieve a reconciliation between spiritual values and the world have been unable to recognize the fundamental continuity between
of man. The basic geometrical figures of Euclidean science became intentions that resulted in the sensuous ornamentation and spatial
the elements of an ars combinatoria in which the figures were complexity of some buildings and intentions that motivated austere
combined and transformed to design extremely complex and se- and dominating schemes such as Versailles or the geometrical
ductive buildings. Created with the most simple elements, a transformation of cities. Only by accepting the essential symbolic
Guarini church becomes a true microcosm, capable of reflecting dimension of geometrical operations in architecture within the
the order of an Aristotelian world through the qualities of natural epistemological framework of the seventeenth century is it possible
perception and the persuasive use of light and textures. to discern the coherence of Baroque architectural intentions, con-
It has been pointed out that Guarini's churches were conceived taining both rational and sensuous dimensions.
as monumental models that reproduced the structural systerir of
the universe, registering the influence of the planets, the phases
of the moon, and the harmonic motion of the heavenly spheres." Desargues's Any study on the impact of modem science upon the architecture
His architecture, however, was not merely a reflection of the Universal Method of the seventeenth century would be remiss if it failed to examine
geometrical structure of the cosmos, but achieved the status of and Perspective the work and ideas of Girard Desargues (1593-1662). Desargues
quasi-natural objects, created through the magic of combinations was an architect and engineer, and probably the most brilliant
and an emphasis on the sensuous qualities of matter, a process geometrician of the seventeenth century. Many of his works were
that Guarini considered analogous to that of divine creation. Thus published around 1650 by his disciple Abraham Bosse, including
geometry was deemed capable by Guarini of reconciling Platonic two treatises in whích he proposed a universal method (manilre
symbolism with the Aristotelian world of everyday life and tra- universelle) for solving problems of perspective on flat and irregular
ditional religion. surfaces and a book on stereotomic projections for stonecutting.19
In Guarini's work, the formal and transcendental dimensions His complete works, however, including an important piece on
of geometry were perfectly reconciled. The geometrization of the pure geometry, were not published until 1864.
world had been the result of the Gallean revolution; geometrical Desargues sought to establish a general geometric science, one
science became a prototype of true knowledge. But Guarini's Ba- that might effectively become the basis for such diverse technical
roque geometry was not merely a formal science; it was an in- operations as perspective, stone- and woodcutting for construction,
strument of rhetoric as well as logic. In keeping with traditional, and the design of solar clocks. These disciplines had always had
Aristotelian perception, geometrical figures assumed the character their own theories, which ultimately referred to the specificity of
of symbolic essences, always derived from sensuous intuitions. the techniques themselves. Desargues's interest was exceptional
The geometrization of res extensa was the point of departure of even in the context of the seventeenth century. In order to find
modem science and technology, allowing for an increasing ex- universal geometrical principies that would allow him to structure
ploitation and desecration of nature. During the seventeenth cen- a common theory for the operations of the techniques in question,
tury, however, the geometrical structure of the cosmos guaranteed Desargues disregarded the transcendental dimension of geometry
the perception of absolute values,'establishing an immediate re- and the symbolic power of geometrical operations. In practica'
lation between res cogitans, res extensa, and God. terms, he had to discover the theoretical properties of geometrical
Baroque architecture emphatically utilized geometrical opera-
perspective (perspectiva artíficialis). Having identified theory with
tions to determine forms and spaces. Geometry replaced the au-
an ars fabricandi, he aspired toward the rational control of practice,

96 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 97 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning

11111111111tiliri'7 ,;1111

Plan and section of Guarini's design for the Church

of the Holy Shroud (S. Sudario) in Turin, showing
the geometry of the dome, from Architettura Civile.

99 Geornetrical Operations as a Source of Meaning

98 Geometry and Architectural Meaning
not an explanation of its reasons.2° Consequently, he could ignore and successors, was precise and autonomous (independent of
the symbolic implications of infinity and was capable of intro- reality, that is). Thus it could become a general science of geo-
ducing this notion into geometry for the first time in the history metrical projections, capable of controlling and rationalizing the
of Western thought. most important techniques of architectuie. The laws of perspective
Such an accomplishment is difficult to appreciate from a con- became the first "theory of theory," truly iiidependent of practice.
temporary vantage point, which regards visual perspective as the The actual drawing and construction of perspectives, the design
only true means of comprehending the external world. In fact, of solar clocks and the determination of the shape and dimensión
preconceptual perception, evident in the art of children or primitive of stone pieces for vaults and arches, all depended upon the same
and non-Westem cultures, is not a perspective perception. Parallel system of obligue projectións and thus could be reduced to a
fines did not converge in Euclidean space, where tactile consid- methodology. For the first time, regardless of the architect's ca-
erations, derived from bodily spatiality, are still more important pacity to visualize the operations, true results were guaranteed
than purely visual information.2' Euclidean geometry was con- by this formal logic, even arriving at "inferred" conclusions that
ceived as a science of immediacy22 whose principies had their might not be explicit in the "premises" of practice and embodied
origin in perception. Like Aristotelian categories, its roles were a reality. Desargues manilre universelle was in fact the first step
posteriori. In a real sense, Euclidean theory is almost a practice, toward a functionalization of reality that would precipitate the
with intuition at its roots. Euclid's theorems are exact and true Industrial Revolution and the crisis of European science duririg
only insofar as the things to which they make reference are ac- the nineteenth century.
cepted as variable and imprecise. The significance of this remarkably early functionalization of
Desargues maintained, however, that all limes converged toward three-dimensional reality should be emphasized. Once perspec-
a point at infmity. Thus any system of parallel limes, or any specific tivism was introduced as a condition of thought by Cartesian
geometrical figure, could be conceived as a variation of ,a single dualism, the theory of perspective could become the first auton-
universal system of concurrent limes. Desargues's básic aims wouid omous general science. Desargues recognized the continuity that
eventually be fulfilled by Gaspard Monge's descriptive geometry existed between the descriptive characteristics of geometrical fig-
toward the end of the eighteenth century. In fact, Desargues's ures and bodies. He was the first to discover that the conic sections
fundamental principie, which stipulated the tracing of perspective (parabola, hyperbola, and ellipse) were only perspective projec-
projections without the use of arbitrary points of distance, would tions of a circie. In the context of Euclidean geometry, such con-
become the general postulate of projective geometry, a science tinuity was never recognized. For each qualitatively different
that would be developed during the second decade of the nine- figure, there was a corresponding interpretation and deduction;
teenth century by Jean-Victor Poncelet. The postulate read, "If each geometrical problem was solved according to its specific
placed two by two on three unes converging in one point, the character.
prolongation of their sides will converge in three points of a Functioning independently of reality, Desargues's theory
single line. "23 avoided metaphysical concerns. His astounding protopositivism,
In his Maniire Universelle pour Pratiquer la Perspective, De- which was doser to the architectural intentions of the nineteenth
sargues emphasized that there was no difference between the century than to those of the Enlightenment, was never accepted
drawing of a plan and that of a perspective, as long as an ap- by his contemporaries. Artista and craftsmen tended to reject any
propriate scale of real dimensions projected to infinity was used. reduction of theory to the condition of ars fabricandi. They con-
A scale of this nature was to be employed for each one of the tinued to use empirical methods for the different techniques of
Cartesian axes in order to construct perspectives that avoided all architecture, methods by which practice and mies were closely
empirical considerations. The traditional, more or less arbitrary, related.
tracings were, in his opinion, irrelevant complications. Desargues's It is interesting to mention in this respect the problems that
theory of perspective, in contrast to that of his contemporaries Bosse faced in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture
when he attempted to teach Desargues's manilre universelle to

100 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 101 Geometrical Operations as a Source af Meaning
art students. The main point of contention was the universal
applicability of Desargues's theory, which was nothing less than
an ontological attack against traditional practice. After a lengthy
struggle, Bosse was disrnissed. It was clear that Desargues's ge-
ometry was not the Euclidean science that allowed artists to fulfill
their symbolic intentions. Desargues's work was indeed rejected,
but it cannot be discounted. It reveals the full and immediate
impact of the epistemological revolution, opening the way to an
effective technological domination of reality. His intentionality,
although explicit only in relation to certain techniques, was already
that of modern architecture.
The noticeable return to the phenomena, implicit in the method
of physics and natural history during the eighteenth century,
reinforced the status of Euclidean spatiality. During the Enlight-
enment, Desargues's name was forgotten. The Italian geometrician
G. Saccheri, editing and commenting Euclid's Elements in 1731,
had in hand all the necessary technical knowledge to refute the
axiom of the nonconvergence of parallel lines." Had he obtained
the conclusions that clearly lay in the path of his investigation,
Saccheri might have hit upon non-Euclidean geometries a hundred
years before their time. It is significant, however, that without
any clear logical reason, the Italian geometrician never concluded
his speculations. The true cause of this has eluded most historians
of science, though it is probably nothing more than a question
of true cultural limitations; Euclidean space, still the space of
embodied perception, was the horizon of thought and action in
the eighteenth century.
After Leibniz, the magical attributes of ars combinatoria were
discredited and geometry and mathematics lost their symbolic
dimension, maintaining only a formal value. This situation ad-

• .1
vanced the transformation of applied mathematics into a powerful
instrument for the technological domination of reality. But this
7111111111~~. transformation, as I have already explained in the previous chapter,
Desargues's simplified perspective method, fmm did not actually occur in the eighteenth century, From the point
Bosse's Maniere Universelle pour Pratiquer la Perspec- of view of a scientific teleology, the systematization of reality was
tive (1648). Desargues's method avoided the use of
vanishing points outside the picture plane. absolutely imperative as a precondition of the Industrial Revolution
and positivism. The process of geometrization that had been in-
itiated by the epistemological revolution ceased during the eigh-
teenth century, restrained by the renewed interest in empirical
Once geometry lost its symbolic attributes in traditional philo-
sophical speculation, perspective stopped being a preferred vehicle

102 Geometry and Architectural Meaning

103 Geonretrical Operations as a Source of Meaning
for the transformation of the world into a meaningful human Enlightened reason became a force whose task was to transform
order. Instead, it became a simple representation of reality, a sort reality into a universe of representation. This notwithstanding, a
of empirical verification of the way in which the external world metaphysical channel remained open between the stage and the
is presented to human vision. The Enlightenment generally aban- spectator, between res extensa and res cogitans. Truth appeared
doned the use of perspectives that had beenso crucial for Baroque in the observation of phenomena, and interrsubjective commun-
architecture, urbanism, and gardening. Without its immanent ication remained possible. This meant that perspectivism, a con-
symbolic sense, perspective became synonymous with an objective dition and result of the radical dualism of modem philosophy,
perception of external reality. This transformation was equivalent could not achieve its ascendency over perception until the end
to a return to the more traditional empirical methods of perspective of the eighteenth century.
construction. Subsequently, the artists and writers interested in It is significant that in contrast to the great number of philos-
the subject during the Enlightenment tried to avoid all conceptual opher-mathematicians of the seventeenth century, during the En-
impositions. Their theories never intended to violate or modify lightenment, only d'Alembert, Wolff, and perhaps Euler can be
perceived reality. Thus the development of a geometrical theory called such. By 1754 Diderot observed a "great revolution" taking
of perspective was arrested during the eighteenth century, and place in the sciences and predicted that in a hundred years there
works like Desargues's, which implied a different attitude to reality, would not even be "three geometricians left in Europe. . . . The
were ignored by practicing artists. progress of this science will. suddenly stop."" Indeed, after mid-
The most influential work showing this transformed notion of century the interest in abstract speculation declined sharply in
perspective was, perhaps paradoxically, Andrea Pozzo's Rieles and favor of experimental physics and natural history. Any geometrical
Examples of Perspective for Painters and Architects. This book, pub- system, including Newton's, could be accused of imposing a false
lished in Latin between 1693 and 1700, was the result of Pozzo's structure upon the diversity of nature." Geometry as a formal
vast practice, itself a significant part of the Jesuit contribution to science was not developed at all during this period and lost its
Baroque art. Avoiding the geometrical theory of perspective, Poz- predominant role as a prototype of knowledge.
zo's theoretical discourse amounts to a collection of extremely In this transformed epistemological framework, geometrical
simple rules and detailed examples of perspective constructions, operations were seldom used in architectural design, although
which always begin from the plan and elevation of a building." they were widely applied in other technical disciplines related to
In 1720 a well-known mathematician, J. Ozanam, defended this architecture, such as surveying, mensuration, stereotomy, and
revised conception of perspective in his Perspective Théorique et statics. But their use in generating architectural forra and meaning
Pratique, which maintined that the sole objective of this science was ambivalent and sporadic, usually appearing elsewhere than
was the imitation of nature. Ozanam criticized those authors who at Paris or Rome, the cultural and architectural centers of
had opposed perspective and who accused it of being a useless Neoclassicism.
art, pleasant to the eye, but only through constant deception.
True, some charlatans had indeed committed abuses in its narre,
relating it to magic and superstition, but this, he thought, was Geometrical The direct influence of Guarini on Central European architects
nonsense. Perspective was only a vehicle for reproducing "the Operations in was considerable during the early eighteenth century. In the Pied-
marvelous world of man" from a given point of view. Eighteenth- mont, Bernardo Vittone followed the example of his master. Vit-
Taking their cue from this purification of perspective, architects Century Design tone was born in Turin in 1705 and was responsible for the
and artists of the eighteenth century showed no interest in the publication of Guarini's Architettura Civile." Traditionally, his
illusionistic tricks and exaggerations that were so popular during work had been classified with that of other Austrian and German
the Baroque period. The world of illusion was distinguished from architects as late Baroque. His use of formal elements and his
the world of everyday life. Man's position vis-á-vis the objective geometrical combinations were clearly borrowed from Guarini,
physical reality of the world was defined more clearly, and this, but his buildings seem to betray a less confident and systematic
in turra, led to the beginning of anthropological speculations." spirit.

104 Geometry and Archítectural Meaning 105 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning
Perspective constructed from a precise plan and ele-
vation, after A. Pozzo's Mes and &limpies of Per-
spective (1709).

106 Geometry and Architectural Meaning

However, Vittone's architecture should not be dismissed for Vittone faced great difficulties when trying to provide a method
these reasons. His important place in the debate between Baroque for quantifying and evaluating buildings or property. His categories
for determining the monetary value of buildings were mostly
and Neoclassical architecture has recently been established.3° Vit-
tone's theory and practice was the result of a conscious, although qualitative, never merely material or quantitative. His traditional
never rigorous, synthesis of diverse interests. A devout Catholic, perception of the world created a confusión between qualities
he had been impressed by Newton's cosmology, which he knew and quantities that was already normally avoided in books about
through Algarotti's interpretation.3' His library included the most
important architectural treatises, severa' editions of Vitruvius, and One of the more interesting aspects of Vittone's theory is his
emphasis on the use of a grid tb solve design problems, párticularly
other less-known books, such as Architectura Civil, Recta y Obliqua
the distribution of such architectural elements as columns, walls,
by Guarini's enemy, Caramuel de Lobkowitz, and Carlo Fontana's
and openings in plan. He included a great number of plates in
Tempio Vaticano. He was passionately interested in rhetoric and
which the grid was used for the determination of plan of buildings
science. In his library was a book by A. Bosse on the drawing of
and gardens, for the composition of elevations, and as the basis
the classical orders using a geometrical method (a possible prec-
for tracing abstract geometrical figures or emblems. Vittone's use
edent of Osio and Guarini), as well as works on physics, astron-
of the grid anticipated by more than forty years Durand's "mech-
omy, mechanics, and optics. He had copies of Galileo's Dialoghi,
a course on mathematics by Ozanam, and Bélidor's most important anism of composition," a method of design recommended solely
work, La Science des Ingenieurs.32 for purposes of efficiency. Vittone's grid was obviously no longer
Vittone, who always added to bis signature the titie ingegnere, the symbolic reticulation of De l'Orme'S Divine Proportion or that
was very interested in technical problems of construction and of Cesariano's representation of Vitruvius's man. It was a practical
was aware of the recent French contributions on the subject. His device for providing simple mies for determining the proportions
theory of architecture was published in two enormous, often re- and locations of rooms, doors, and windows. No longer a network
dundant, treatises entitied Istruzioni Elementari (1760) and Istru- of invisible fines to elucidate architectural meaning„ the grid be-
zioni Diverse (1766), dedicated to God and the Virgin Mary. Both carne a mere instrument for simplifying the design process.
books betray the same interests. In Istruzioni Diverse, Vittone In view of our previous discussion, however, the technological
dealt with mensuration, hydraulics, property evaluation, bridge implications of Vittone's use of the grid should not be overem-
construction, "and all types of buildings and omaments of civil phasized." For though he seemed genuinely concerned with stat-
architecture."33 He included methods of calculating areas and vol- ics, his comprehension of structural problems was narrow. He
untes of complex vaults and the precise dimensions of the Italian may have known Borra's treatise on strength of materials and
ralle in relation to the spheroidal shape of the earth. In the section Poleni's collection of reports on the structural problems of Saint
on the design and construction of bridges, he mentioned Bélidor's Peter's Basilica in Rome, both published in 1748; but the tracing
work. Still, Vittone did not refer to quantitative considerations he provided in Istruzioni Diverse for the correct configuration of
resulting from the strength of materials; his recommendations for a dome is a modified version of Carlo Fontana's method, as it
the proportions of piers were wholly conventional, taken mostly appeared in his Tempio Vaticano (1694). This was a truly Baroque
from the best-known Renaissance treatises. In the chapter on set of geometrical operations, not derived from mechanical con-
vaults, he pointed out the difficulties involved in determining the . siderations, but endorsed by their immanent symbolic power and
"convenient thickness" of the upper sections in order to make the actual existence of exemplary models that embodied this
them sufficiently resistant." He then tried to apply some principies geometry.
of statics to the problem, devised a formula, and used it. In the Vittone also studied the works of Newton, though he never
end, however, Vittone repeated L. B. Alberti's advice on the di- seemed to understand the hnportance of empirical, quantitative
mensions of vaults. Indeed, if Vittone's work is compared to con- knowledge. He was concemed mainly with the poetic dimension
temporary French and Italian Neodassical treatises, including the of Newton's Platonic cosmology. Like Briseux, Vittone identifled
Rigoristti, his lack of interest in mechanics and quantitative ex- musical with architectural harmonies and considered Newton's
periments is remarkably conspicuous. optical theory, which explained mathematically the separation of

108 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 109 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning
white light into the séven colors of the rainbow, to be the supreme
confirmation of traditional theories of proportion. The careful and
mysterious use of light in Vittone's churches had its origin in the
archaic horizon of Neoplatonic belief. Light was a traditional sym-
bol of divinity, now made explicit through its newly discovered
qualities and magical properties. Newton's acute empiricism,
however, could never determine the true essence of light. Its
mystery, similar to that of the gravitational force, always fascinated
Newton, just as it did artists, 'poets, and architects, for whom it
became a source of inspiration."
To the Istruzioni Diverse, Vittone added a short piece on the
nature of music and harmonic proportion by a Glose associate.3'
In a short introduction, Vittone evinced skepticism about Plato's
and Hermes Trismegistus's idea that music is a "science of order,
according to which are disposed all things in nature."" He also
questioned the marvelous and magical character of a "universal
architecture," though he considered an understanding of the uni-
versal laws of harmony necessary to establish gules for the design
of theatres, communal halls, basilicas, and choirs, where a con-
sideration of acoustics was essential. Thus Vittone endorsed his
disciple's piece, which was an attempt to apply "scientific" prin-
cipies to the problems of harmony and represented, in effect, a
corpuscular theory of sound. The author analyzed "extrinsic" and
"intrinsic" properties of sound: sonority, propagation, "dilatation"
or the "periodic order" of harmonic elements—all of which he
defined in terms of "atoms of sound." He compared them to
"atoms of light" and imagined them traveling through the ether.
He studied their form, elasticity, and dimensions, postulating an
yes. analogy between atoms of sound, atoms of fire, and atoms of
‘--"V".-11"111--tr water. Mathematical harmony constituted the essense of this
analogy because, as Galileo had shown, "nature is mathematical
in all that concerns physical things and their functions.""
These theories were partly derived from seventeenth-century
physics, having their roots in a traditional cosmobiology. Not
surprisingly, the author also emphasized the symbolic character
of certain numbers. The number 2, for example, was "meaningful
and mysterious," since it was always present in harmonic con-
sonances; its symbolic character was reinforced by the fact that
number 22 determined the "totality of the musical system."" This
1 is also the number of letters in the Jewish, Chaldean, and Syrian
alphabets; it is the number of ancient canonical texts and the
number of patriarchs, judges, and kings. After a similar study of
The use of the grid applied to the design of a villa,
from Vittone's Istruzioni Elementari (1760).

110 Geometty and Architectural Meaning 111 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning
the character of number 7, the author concluded that "in view
of such and so many mystical correspondences," it was unques-
tionable that harmony was a science in which God had deposited
conspicuous signs of His most sublime and admirable secrets.
Vittone's conception of number and his use of geometrical op-
erations were ambivalent; although half-conscious of the impli-
cations of modem science, they also derived from traditional
considerations. His use of the grid as a tool of design and bis
interest in Newton and in the works of French engineers seemed
to be a move away from the transcendental theories of his Baroque
predecessors. But in the end, his profound religious convictions
and the formal architectural expression that he had inherited from
Guarini prevailed. Assimilated at a certain level with the Platonic
cosrnology of natural philosophy, his geometrical structures were
never as overpowering as Guarini's. In his humble churches, the
structure was always subdued by the presence of light.
The use of a grid as an instrument to simplify the design process
and to make explicit the proportions of the components of an
architectural plan also appeared in a less-known work, the In-
stituzioni d'Architettura Civile (1772) by Nicole Carletti. To Carletti,
architecture was a science, and his aim was to guide young ar-
View into the dome of Vittone's Sanctuary of Valli-
chitects through "the purest doctrines," toward a "universal prac- noto, near Carignano in the Piedmont (1738-1739).
tice of their art."" Without quibbling, Carletti declared his fervent
adherence to Newton's philosophy. His own wish, then, was to
implement in architecture the analytical methods that the British
scientist had discovered. For Carletti, "the culmination of human
knowledge" consisted in a series of observations and experiences
from which were obtained general principies through induction.42
Carletti claimed that his work was thoroughly modeled on
Newton's "system" and gave two reasons for his choice. In the
first place, he wanted to provide "simple meditations" founded
on few data, instead of a "long series of irritating arguments."
His second reáson was more interesting. Carletti realized, as did
Perrault, that architecture was related to custom. After a brief
historical analysis, he expressed a pragmatic view of primitive
architecture, showing it to be simple, unrefined, and guided by
the sole objective of defending man against the elements. Beauty,
solidity, and commodity, the three categories that constituted the
main objectives of architecture, were to be founded on the in-
vestigations, approval, and institutions of wise men "that had -
opened the way toward truth, through reasons considered as
absolute principies." But while Perrault upheld Vitruvius's treatise

112 Geometry and Architecturai Meaning 113 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning
and provided his own rules in the Ordonnance, Carletti took New- human life acquired a new value as lived experience. The architect
ton as his source. Geographical and cultural differences notwith- was concerned with the city as a stage for the drama of humanity,
standing, architecture, for Carletti, was an extension of nature now liberated from religious determinism but nonetheless devout.
and therefore was grounded in absolute principies. The search Through the seventeenth century, the symbolic geometrical order
for truth and its application was the dedared motif of his analytical of both secular and religious institutions was indeed the task of
system. Ironically, the form of the text was more geometrico, a the architect, striving to give man a dwelling place for his image,
collection of definitions, observations, experiments, corollaries, reconciling his finitude with eternity. In order to understand the
schollia, and rules, reminiscent of the previous century. órigins and possibilities of modem architecture, it must be noted
Carletti surveyed various types of buildings and used a grid to that once the human world and its institutions became truly sec-
describe his project for a jail, placing the walls on the unes and ularized in the eighteenth century, the symbolic intentionality of
columns on the intersections. His proportions were stipulated in architecture became strongly associated with theoretical projects
terms of natural whole numbers. He was genuinely interested in of sacred (and funerary) buildings.
the strength of materials and statics. In the Istifuzioni, he provided Carletti admitted to having been influenced by the work of the
einpirical rules concerning the properties of building materials. German philosopher Christian Wolff, who himself had been the
The second volume of his work was totally devoted to such tech- most important disciple of Leibniz. It was Wolff's disregard for
nical problems as topography, the geometrical determination of the transcendental implications of Leibniz's cosmological synthesis
the shapes of vaults and arches, mensuration of parts of buildings that intirnated a philosophy that no longer depended on theology,
and quantification of their cubic volumes, and a method for finding and would eventually become a critique of reason.
the real dimensions of buildings starting from their general Wolff spent his life attempting to achieve a total systematization
proportions. of human knowledge. His general metaphysics would become
Yet alongside his modem preoccupations, Carletti also retained during the nineteenth century the general philosophy of positiv-
traditional notions about proportion. He believed that architectural ism. He tried to organize all available information, transforming
harmony and proportion had their origin in the human body, it into a "true science." His objective was to create a system in
which he proved in the Vitruvian fashion. In a section on the which the principies would be the obvious origin of their own
determination of proportions of vertical structural elements, he consequences, a system where everything could be "deduced with
was unable to distinguish between dimensions obtained through demonstrative evidence." He wrote that after "having meditated
the application of statics and those simply prescribed by the tra- on the foundation of evidence in geometrical demonstrations and
ditional rules of proportion. It was only in relation to sacred on the techniques of research in algebra," he was able to establish
buildings, however, that he emphasized the crucial importance "the general rules of demonstration and discovery.""
of harmony and proportion. These buildings, which he saw as Wolff's philosophy is a good example of how the Newtonian
being dedicated to the God of the Enlightenment, the "Supreme model was applied early on to the human sciences. His numerous
Maker" or "Divine Unity," should be places condücive to the writings are all characterized by a mathematical structure, very
"perfect adoration and contemplation of INFINITY."" similar to the metaphysical systems of the seventeenth century,
Carletti's understanding of architecture vis-á-vis sacred space but without their guarantee of absolute transcendence. His formal
has important implications on which I shall elaborate in the fol- a priori systems imitated in a sense the perfect intelligibility of
lowing chapter. During the Middle Ages, the symbolic order re- Newtonian thought. Wolff's stated intention was to do for meta-
vealed by architecture concerned fundamentally the cathedral, physics what Newton had achieved in his physics: to define it
the City of God, the only immutable and transcendental building. through the unification of "reason and experience."" In his Ele-
The finite order of the city was not an architectural problem menta Matheseos Universae (1713), for example, he tried to im-
strictly speaking, except perhaps on the occasion of religious cel- plement Chis synthesis. The text was structured more geometrico.
ebrations, when the ideal geometrical order was made manifest Alongside specific sections on civil and military architecture, it
in the structure and staging of a mystery play." In the Renaissance, included those disciplines that had been or were to become part

114 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 115 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning
of the education of eighteenth-century engineers and architects:
proportions could be slightly modified without endangering the
mathematical method, arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry, finite
and infinite analysis, statics and mechanics, hydraulics, optics, beauty of a building, and no doubt recognized certain essential
affinities between Wolff and Perrault, particularly their emphasis
perspective, gnomonics, and pyrotechnics.
on mathematical systematization and their understanding of theory
This interest to axiomatize knowledge in a world where such
as a formal discipline capable of being structured apart from meta-
operations were still impossible determined the ambiguity of the
physical speculations. Wolff's own protopositivism, however, was
work of philosophers like Wolff and d'Alembert, an ambiguity
restrained by the implicit metaphysical dimension of Newtonian
that was shared by the infrequent attempts- of absolute syste-
- natural philosophy; his systematization was still a metameta-
matization in eighteenth-century architecture. During the En-
physics, not an actual positivism.
lightenment, the dilemma was solved by invoking the
In eighteenth-century England, there were also some sporadic
transcendental sense of Nature. Both Wolff and Carletti depended
applications of geometry in architectural design, particularly
upon Newton's discoveries to justify their own geometric and
among the "architect-surveyors". One instance is the work of
aprioristic intellectual structures—structures that the English sci-
Robert Morris, who on the surface appears as a very traditional
entist himself would have rejected. Induction and encyclopedism
architect, insisting that good teste necessarily derives from an
normally avoided the contradictions between mathematical sys-
intimate acquaintance with the work of the ancients. His admi- • .
tems and empirical reality by discouraging any excessive math-
ematical formalization of knowledge. ration of Palladio, so popular in England during the early eigh-
The section on civil architecture in the Elemento, like Carletti's teenth century, was unconditional. He called him "the chiefest
restorer of antiquify."49
Istituzioní, was structured more geometrico. Wolff's theory was still
In 1728 he published An Essay in Defence of Ancient Architecture,
fundamentally Vitruvian and induded the dassical orders. Con-
which was concerned with the criticism of modem "follies" and
cerning proportion, Wolff made no explicit reference to its symbolic
excessive use of ornament. He added a rather lengthy introduction
content, but insisted that the optimal dimensional relations were as a key to his architectural intentions. In an exalted poetic vein,
defined by natural numbers "easy to recognize by the human
Morris emphasized the symbolic sense of Nature; he referred to
sight." His theory was similar to that which Laugier would put
forward in his Observations, almost sixty years later. Wolff intro- it as the "architectural Creation of the World" and as a rnani-
festation of "Divine Power."" After praising the Royal Society
duced three categories by which to recognize the perfection of
of London and the Baconian concept of mutual assistance for the
proportions in relation to a mathematical rationalism that, he
advancement of science, he declared his faith in a universal har-
believed, corresponded to perceptual intelligibility. His funda-
mony. Morris dearly revealed the poetic dimension of natural
mental criterion was the clarity with which proportion was pre-
philosophy: fantastic visions of microscopic worlds, planets, an-
sented, becoming better as it approached the square and avoided
small fractions.47 imals and plants—everything ordered in a cosmic totality where
it was possible to perceive "the mysterious act of Divine Wisdozn."
Wolff reproduced the proportions for the classical orders rec-
But apart from this, when he tried to describe the prototypical
ommended by Goldmann, one of the least-known traditional au-
image of traditional cosmobiology, his words lacked conviction:
thors. However, he also induded systematic tables for determining
"We are not a little pleased says a great author . when we
the dimensions of certain ornamental elements, numerical tales
compare the body of man with bulk of the whole Earth, the Earth
for the design of chimneys, and geornetrical methods for tracing
with the circle it describes round the sun, the circle to the sphere
various details. It is significant that the anonymous translator of
the French edition of the Elemento (1747) decided to substitute of the fix'd stars, the sphere of the fix'd stars to the circuit of the
whole Creation."." In the end, his conclusions about architecture
Goldmann's proportions ("in such bad taste") with Perrault's.4a
were not very arnbitious. Like Carletti long after him, he specifically
His decision was explained in a "corollary" to the text that under-
addressed sacred architecture, which he claimed would be more
lined the relative unimportance of following scrupulously the
pleasant if it resembled the works of nature.
original recommendations of Wolff. The translator thought that

116 Geometry and Arc hitectural Meaning 117

Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning
In his Lectures on Architecture, Morris wrote more extensively
ES S AY about the use of proportions and geometry. His purpose was to
In Defence of determine what "true proportion and harmony" really were, so
Ancient .Architeaure ; that it might be possible to establish practical mies. He believed
O It, A
that, regardless of whether harmony resided "in numbers or Na-
ture, it immediately strikes the Imagination by some attractive or
PARALLEL sympathizing property.'"2 These were obvious echoes of New:.
05 T Fi E
tonian harmony. But Morris also believed that architects should
Ancient $iíildings with the Modern :
eTiEwleic know geometry in order "to delineate regular or irregular plans,
The Beauty and Harmony of the Former, etc., to furnish him with reasons for the capacity of supporting
and the Irregularicy of the Latrer. weights," and to trace perspectives, sections, and elevations. And
With Imparcial adeftions on the Reafons of che Abufes they should be acquainted with arithmetic "for estirnates, mea-
introduced by our pretens Builden.
surements," and "money spended," and be familiar with "Mu-
An Inipeaional TA B L E, univertrilly lifeful, sick to judge their accords and discords and affinity with
Soce,:c Col, F. -PA A rl A proportion, in erecting places such as Rooms of Entertainment,
By Ra11ERT, o(' Twickenham. Theatres, Churches in which Sound is more immediately
¿raro be«? far incito: Ea:g; 1 1751 Mrn«. concerned."3
Te cap Natere ir re toy:r P r r. on Cuemiai.
Morris apparently recognized the formal dimension of math-
Co ore
. Princ.! for P. Ss cho RI.Li ematics as a technical tool in architecture. His interest in musical
.V. BinellnYtii,i in Thl,e.MV.t 'MI,. reo;
harmony, however, did not stem merely from a concern with
Frontispiece and title page of Morris's Essay. Notice acoustics. Explaining his system of proportion, Morris pointed
the altegory of revelation of ancient roles and Pope's out that through music, nature has taught Mankind certain rules
of "Arithmetical Harmony." These were the rules of proportion
that he adopted for architecture: "The Square in Geometry, the
Unison or Circle in Music and the Cube in Building have all an
inseparable Proportion; the Parts being equal . . give the Eye and
Ear an agreeable Pleasure, from hence may likewise be deduc'd
the Cube and half, the Double Cube; the Diapason and Diapente,
being founded on the same Principies in Musick."" Immecliately
thereafter, Morris declared his preferente for natural numbers in
architectural proportions and established the maximum dimen-
. sions of his modular cube. The use of modular cubes unques-
tionably simplified the conception of architectural volumes. The
technical dimension of his concern with proportions was partic-
ularly evident in a chapter on chimneys, in which he sought to
discover the "arithmetic and harmonic proportions" of chimneys
in relation to the dimension of rooms and to provide simple and
universal rules for their design.
Having established an analogy between musical harmony and
architectural proportion, Morris decided that to the seven "distinct"
notes of the musical scale there corresponded seven proportions
in architecture that could be clearly differentiated: Architectural

118 Geometry and Architectural Mealring 119 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning
proportion "difuses itself to the Imagination by some sympathizing
Secret to the Soul, which is all union, all Harmony."55 In An Essay
upon Harmony (1739), Morris emphasized that the harmony of
natura consisted in proportions, which originated in the human
body. He included a quotation from Shaftsbury: "Nothing surely
is more strongly imprinted in Our Minds than the idea or
sense of order and Proportion; hence all the force of Numbers,
and those powerful arts founded on theirManagement and Use."56
Obviously, Morris was aware of the metaphysical foundation
of natural philosophy, and he invoked this outlook to provide
the ultimate validity of his architecture. Nevertheless, his use of
geometry as a design tool sida appeared as a merely technical
operation, equivalent to geometrical application in statics, sur-
veying, and mensuration. It should be remembered that the am-
biguity present in the use of mathematics by eighteenth-century
architects also appeared in Newtonian science itself. On the one
hand, and on a practical level, Newton attested that geometry
derives from mechanics; on the other hand, the geometrical ordér
of his Platos-tic cosmology was a primordial symbol of God's par-
ticipation in Being, confirming the significance of human action
in an infinite universe.
The work of Batty Langley, a defender of the English garden
and contemporary of Morris, was developed within a similar
framework, but with an additional important dimension.
Throughout Langley's work, there is a marked emphasis on the
necessity to apply geometrical operations to all sorts of architectural
problems. Geometry was not a means for formal innovation, but
rather a tool for resolving traditional questions, in the manner
proposed by Osio and Bosse. For Langley, geometrical operations
were indispensable for the conception and execution of buildings.
In 1726 Langley published his Practical Geometry Applied to the
Useful Arts of Building, Surveying, Gardening and Mensuration,
which provided the definitions, theorems, and axioms of Euclidean
geometry as a necessary foundation for 11 the building crafts.
This supposition of a general geometrical theory is quite excep-
tional during the eighteenth century. Langley applied it to the
The generation of cubic proportions in architecture, description of spiral fines in gardening, tracing classical orders,
from Morris's Lectures ott Architecture (1734).
and drawing plans and elevations of labyrinths, groves, cities,
parishes, estates, and "wildernesses."
Aware of the different proportions recommended by the great
masters for the classical orders, Langley decided, like Perrault, to
use approximately average dimensions. But he gave little un-

120 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 121 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning
lntroduction to the operations of Euclidean Design for an English garden from Langley's
geometry, from Langley's Practica! Geometry (1726). Practica! Geometry.

122 Geometry and Architecturat Meaning 123 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning
portance to the spedfic numerical proportions. Instead, he provided
precise geometrical instructions by which to draw the orders and
their details, simplifying as much as possible the operation of
design. A scale of his own invention was to be used to determine
the dimensions of mouldings and flutings in relation to the heights
of columns. Significantly, his Gothic Architecture Improved by Rules
and Proportions advocated the same methods. Geometrical op-
erations were obviously his main concern; they were perceived
as fundamental, regardless of stylistic differences. Langley pro-
posed five "gothic orders," which were constructed on the basis
of geometrical tracings.
Langley avoided the symbolic implications of geometry. The
Builder's Compleat Assistant (1738), examined trigonometry, to-
pography, stereometry, and Newton's laws and considerations
about statics, mechanics, and hydrostatics. It discussed complex
applications of geometry to many problems of construction, such
as stairs, vaults, and scaffolding, and included Palladio's system
of proportion and one of his own invention. In A Sure Guide to
Builders of 1729, after a long introduction devoted to geometry,
Langley reproduced the proportions of the dassical orders by
Geometry applied to the design of openings, from
Vitruvius, Palladio, and Scamozzi, adding a geometrical tracing Langley's Builder's Treasury of Designa (1750).
of each one of the respective orders.
In apparent contradiction to his own technical interests and to
the views expressed by his Baroque predecessors, Langley never
questioned the value of ancient authority. His unconditional re-
spect for the texts and buildings of the past, together with his
passion for geometrical operations and technical problema of con-
struction, appears as a perfectly coherent aspect of his theory.
This can only be explained through Langley's militant affiliation
to Freemasonry, whose ideology reinforced the ethical and moral
values implicit in natural philosophy. Langley published in 1736
two large volumes entitled Ancíent Masonry Both in the Theory
and Practice, where he provided "Useful Rules of Arithmetic,
Geometry and Architecture in the Proportions and Orders of the
Most Erninent Masters of All Nations."
The content of this work is, significantly, similar to all his other
works on architecture. It included the geometrical tracing of the
dassical orders and their details, the resolution of diverse con-
struction problems, rules of proportion according to ancient and
modem authors, and a whole gamut of applications of geometry
to architecture. By identifying the history of architecture with the
masonic tradition, however, his collection of geometrical opera-

124 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 125 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning
tions takes on a different meaning. Instead of being mere instru-
sonic tradition, the temple became an embodiment of the perfect
ments of technology, geometrical operations assume the character
geometrical harmony of the universe and of a meaningful praxis.
of poesis, technical procedures with implicit transcendent objec- In The Builder's Compleat Assistant, Langley provided his own
tives. Operational Masonry was practica' geometry, a science given
version of the history of Masonry. After defining georrietry as
by God to the People of Israel, which the Masons of the eighteenth
"the most excellent Knowledge of the world, as being the. Basis
century believed they had inherited. A. M. Ramsay, the "phi-
or Foundation of all Trade and on which all arts depend," he
losopher of Freemasonry," put it this way in 1737: "The Supreme
described its origins in the Old Testament and its utilization by
taste for Order, Symmetry and projection could not have been
Hermes, "the Father of Wisdom"; Euclid, "the most worthy Geo-
inspired but by the Great Geometrician architect of the Universe
metrician in the World"; and Hiram, "the chief Conducter of the
whose eternal ideas are the models of true Beauty."" Ramsay
Temple of Solomon."' (The source of this identifica tion of ge-
then went on to describe how God, according to the Holy Scrip-
ometry with a mythical building craft was probably a famous
tures, provided Noah with the proportions of his "floating build-
manuscript dating from the middle of the fourteenth century, the
ing" and the manner by which the "mysterious science" had been
Constitutions of the Art of Geometry According to Euclid.")
transmitted, by oral tradition, to Abraham and Joseph, who
Langley, it should be noted, concentrated his interest on tech-
brought it to Egypt. Masonic science then was disseminated
nical problems, ignoring the metaphysical dimension of archi-
throughout Asia, reached Greece, and, after the Crusades, was
tectural theory as a liberal art. This attitude, however, betrayed
brought to Great Britain, the modem center of Freemasonry. Ram-
not a positivistic but a traditional position. Langley's techniques
say believed that the Temple of Solomon, which reproduced the
were intended to keep the poetic and symbolic values of medieval
proportions of the "primordial tabemade" of Moses, embodied
craftsmanship, and the result was always fundamentally ambig-
the laws of the "Invisible World," where all is harmony, order,
uous. For as soon as geometry was applied to problems of building
and proportion.
construction during the Enlightenment, all the .secret or tran-
The great interest of architects in the Temple of Solomon as
scendent connotations of Masonic science seemed to vanish. Even
an archetypal building had grown since the end of the sixteenth
when compared to previous seventeenth-century works on statics,
century, when the syncretism of the Renaissance began to be
stereotomy, and architecture, Langley's collections of technical
questioned and a synthesis of the Graeco-Roman and Judeo-
operations seem neutral, lacking in magic and fascination. Fol-
Christian traditions had to be justified rationally. The temple was,
lowing in the steps of natural philosophy, the mythical framework
in Joseph Rykwert's words, "the image of production as path to
in Langley's theory became implict, reconciling the respect for
salvation," the only monument directly inspired by God still visible
traditional myths and proportional systems with a fundamental
on earth." The appreciation of the temple's attributes, however,
belief in the continued importance of geometrical operations in
shifted significantly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
architectural history.
In their late-sixteenth-century reconstruction of the temple, the
The ambiguous uses of geometry by Langley and Morris take
Jesuits Prado and Villalpando attempted to reconcile the Bible
on an added significante in view of the fact that British architecture
with Vitruvius by postulating that building as the origin of the
had always disapproved of Italian and Central European Baroque.
Corinthian order, while its geometrical plan responded to Re-
The formal particularities of architecture, fascinating and irre-
naissance cosmobiology." In his Entwurff einer Historischen Ar-
ducible, while being the expression of the most profound personal
chitectur (1727), J. B. Fischer von Erlach viewed the temple as an
and cultural characteristics of an architect, should not hinder an
archetypal building, the source of the "great Principies" of Roman
understanding of the intentions underlying architecture common
architecture, which magically reconciled all differences of taste.
to eighteenth-century Europe: an architecture that shared in theory
But Fischer was not interested in mathemata. Instead of its pro-
the metaphysical principies of natural philosophy and in practice
portions, he praised the grandeur and richness of the mythical
its transcendent objectives.
building. During the eighteenth century, particularly in the ma-

126 Geometry and Architectural Meaning

127 Geometrical Operations as a Source of Meaning

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, which had seen an
which often resulted in a conscious primitivism and a tendency
increasing rationalization of theory, architects frequently ques-
toward purism. From this standpoint, the architecture of Boullée
tioned the mythical framework underlying traditional forms. The
and Ledoux can be considered the final embodiment of the Neo-
architecture of the French Revolution was characterized essentially
classical reconcilia tion of taste and reason.
by the use of simplified ornamental elements, a frequent disregard
of the classical orders, and the employment of volumes in the Architects such as Soufflot, De Wailly, and Gondoin emphasized
form of simple geometrical bodies. In 1793 Louis Du Fourny that the simplicity of theix prototyper existed in classical antiquity.
wrote, "Architecture should be regenerated through geometry." J. F. Blondel, like most theoreticians, believed that this "noble
Indeed, the primordial role attributed to geometry as a "regen- simplicity" was a fundamental quality of architecture.5 -Marie-
erator" of form, over and aboye any other consideration, is evident Joseph Peyre, in his popular collection of projects (1765), intended
in the now well-publicized "revolutionary" projects.' to imita te the "magnificent buildings" erected by the Roman Em-
perors.6 Nevertheless, his designs were striking not for their gran-
A thorough understanding of late-eighteenth-century French
architecture is crucial in order to clarify the origin of modern deur (as were Baroque conceptions), but precisely because they
architectural intentions. The most influential architects of this mute use of simple elements and geometrical volumes.
period, Etienne-Louis Boullée and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, pro- Clear formal precedents for these conceptions appeared in Rome
duced their work in the yeará preceding the explosion of tech- about 1740 and probably influenced many yonng French architects
nology and industrialism in Europe. It is important to clarify the studying there.' At the beginning of the century, J. B. Fischer von
similárities and differences between their intentions and those of Erlach was employing historical fragments (Roman columns, ob-
their disciples, particularly Durand. elisks, temple fronts, and so forth) as conceptually independent
The great majority of works on the history of late-eighteenth- elements that he combined in his architecture. But the emphasis
century French architecture have approached these problems from on elementary geometry evident in late-eighteenth-century French
a merely formal point of view. The label "romantic classicism" architecture cannot be explained away by these models alone.
has been used to group together indiscriminately French and Eu- The search for pure and fundamental forms was unquestionably
ropean architecture spanning the period from the rnideighteenth related to natural philosophy's search for truths of universal va-
lidity.8 In his Lettres sur ('Architecture des Anciens (1787), Jean-
century to the midnineteenth century. Direct relations have been
postulatedbetween the pure geometrical solids in Ledoux's projects Louis Viel de Saint-Maux referred to primitive antiquity as "fab-
and the work of Le Corbusier or between Goethe's abstract sculp- ulous;" although it had not been recommended by ancient and
tures in Weimar and the pieces of a chess set produced in the traditional authors because it lacked beautiful contours, modern
Bauhaus.2 Such characteristics as austere simplicity, the absence architects should look back to it as "the time in which art had
its origin."9 This obsession to establish the principies of art in
of the classical orders, and the use of Platonic solids and simple
geometrical figures in plans and elevations are seen as precedents their natural origins was taken to the limit toward the end of the
of twentieth-century architecture. Louis Kahn even wrote a poem century, when the Platonic cosmology of Newton had firmly taken
in which Boullée and Ledoux have the same importance for ar-
chitecture as Bach for music or the sun for the universe.3 This Etienne-Louis Boullée was a rather successful practicing ar-
unrestricted identification has often been misleading for the un- chitect.l° He had a considerable library, comprised of many literary
derstanding of modern architecture and its origins. works: books on history, geography, and astronomy; a small col-
The tendency toward formal simplicity, evident in French art lection of architectural treatises; texts by Voltaire, Rousseau, and
other philosophes; as well as writings on art history and archae-
during the second half of the eighteenth century, has been in-
terpreted as the consequence of a reaction against the formal ology, including works by Dubos, Winckelmann, and Cleriseau."
exaggerations of Rococo, resulting from the increasing domination His own theoretical writings were not published until the twentieth
of reason.4 Taste and rationality, that is, emotional and intellectual
In his Essai sur l'Art, Boullée asks, "What is architecture? Is it
considerations, impelled the artist to search for first principies,
possible to define it, like Vitruvius, as the art of building?" His

130 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 131 Sytnbolic Geometry in French Architecture
Plan, section, and elevation of a funerary monu-
ment, from Peyre's Oeuvres d'Architecture (1765).

132 Geometry and Architectural Mearang

133 Symbolic Geometry in French Architecture
answer is categorically negative. Vitruvius, in his opinion, confused implicit, to his thinking, in Perrault's theory, Boullée postulated
the effect with its cause. According to Boullée, it is necessary to a theory of his own.
conceive in order to execute, and this creation, a "production of Many pages of the Essai are devoted to the discussion between
the intellect," constitutes architecture. The old Renaissance dis- Perrault and Blondel. Boullée accepted the. notion of progreso in
tinction between design and building became sharp and dogmatic architecture and praised the concrete realizations of modern
in Boullée's theory. The specificity and value of architecture de- builders. In fact, he dedicated his work to those artists who be-
cidedly pointed to the sphere of design and conception, He thought lieved, as he did, that there was more to architecture than the
that architecture was composed of two autonomous parto, "the imitation of antiquity. He also acknowledged the distinction be-
art itself" and science: "Unfortunately, the majority of authors tween music and architecture first formulated by Perrault: Whereas
who have written about architecture have dealt only with the harmony provided the basis for the fundamental principies of
scientific part."'s Boullée considered as part of "science" all those music, architectural proportion, although an important source of
aspects of architectural theory that liad already been made subject beauty, was not "the first law from which derive the constitutive
to reason, including the canon of the classical orders. Boullée, principies of this art.'''s Boullée then added that while a lack of
using scientific inquiry as a guide, then attempted to justify and harmony in music hurts the ear, architecture could not be pleasing
explain the true act of creation by dealing with the conception to the eye if it was in need of order and symmetry. These were,
of images in the universe of theoretical discourse. in his opinion, the fundamental rational principies that should
The end of the eighteenth century witnessed the increasing never abandon the architect's genius, for "Nothing is beautiful
importante of the ideal dimension of architecture, In the Essai, if all is not wise."16
Boullée claimed that men gain clear ideas about the figure of Boullée's position in this respect seems similar to Perrault's,
bodies only after "possessing" the idea of regularity. The capacity who had also adopted the notion of bilateral symmetry as one
of the artists to reconcile the ideal with reality, however, was of the characteristics of positive beauty. But Boullée could not
also evident during the Enlightenment. Wordsworth identified accept that the fundamental principies of architecture were ar-
imagination with "reason in its most exálted mood." And in his bitrary. This was, indeed, his main point of contention with Per-
article on "genius" for the Encyclopedia, Diderot contrasted the rault. Architecture could not be an art based merely on imagination
elegante and finished quality of something merely "beautiful ac- (un art fantastique et de pure invention). Having found Francois
. cording to the rules of taste" with a work of gerdus, which has Blondel's refutation inconsistent, and realizing that well-educated
an "irregular, rugged or savage air." Admiration for genius and men had embraced Perrault's ideas, Boullée decided to prove that
its sublime creations did not imply, as it would during the Romantic architecture possessed absolute principies derived from nature,
movement of the nineteenth century, hostility to the rules of art." despite the validity of historical or cultural relativism. This ap-
For Boullée, mathematical reason, important as it was, had its peared as a crucial issue, one not to be taken for granted. For
limitations, Like Le Camus de Meziéres before him, he stressed Boullée, metaphysical necessity was a personal existential problem.
the role of genius in architecture. He pointed out that the beauty The meaning of his Efe and his architecture depended on the
of art could not be demonstrated like mathematical truths. To the presence of such principies. Boullée's theory, for the first time in
degree that beauty emanates from nature, it is imperative to possess the history of architecture, was formulated out of fear of "having
certain irreducible and inna te special faculties, "scarce in nature devoted his Efe to the study of a chimeric art," a pursuit that
itself," in order to perceive and happily apply such beauty. might have led him into constant error."
Boullée faced the great dilemma of eighteenth-century archi- It is still a commonly held belief that after the Renaissance,
tecture: the necessity to reconcile universal reason with a historical with the transformation of architecture into a liberal art, building
and cultural relativism that was becoming increasingly evident. practice became dependent on an eminently prescriptive theory.
While supporting Perrault's assessment regarding the nonessential Such a simplistic assertion has hampered a true understanding
character of numerical proportion, Boullée nevertheless proclaimed of Baroque and Neoclassical architecture. In the a ftermath of the
the existence of absolute beauty. To counteract the relativism Galilean revolution, Perrault and some of his followers could

134 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 135 Symbotic Geometry in French Architecture
voice this dependence. But, as I have tried to show, architectural
practice during the Enlightenment, a true poesis, never depended intellect. Regular bodies, however, possessed symmetry and ab°
upon a merely prescriptive technical theory. The relation between variety—the two attributes of order and evidente. Regularity was
theory and practice became increasingly critical toward the end consequently "the source of beauty in the shape of objects.""
of the century, coinciding with the dissolution of the traditional Le Camus de Meziéres had already expressed concem about
cosmos. Thus when Boullée proclaimed that theory was not an meaning in architecture. In Boullée's Essai, this preoccupation
essential instrument for architects, he was openly flaunting tra- became paramount. He complained about a lack of expression in
dition. Boullée believed that architects depend on their innate the buildings of his contemporaries: works that displayed a lack
gifts to choose wísely, regardless of their knowledge of principies. of concern with "the poetry of architecture." Boullée niaintained
He believed that not even "the best reasonings" about the fine that architecture, particularly public buildings, "should be, in some
arts could be used in artistic education. Reason, according to Boul- way, like poems; the images that they offer to our senses should
lée, was not conducive to the acquisition of "sensations." Con- excite us with sentiments analogous to the use to which these
sequently, artists should learn how to exercise their sensibilities, buildings are consecrated."21 To realize this aim, Boullée studied
findirtg a means for developing it through the works of Nature the "theory of bodies," analyzing their properties, their "power
and man. In this way Boullée explained the existence of beautiful over our senses," and their analogy with our being. Beginning
buildings in the primitive cultures of Africa and South America with Nature, the "source of the fine arts," he intended to establish
before there was any science of architecture. "new ideas" and absolute principies.
Theory, for Boullée, was fundamentally a transcendental jus- Boullée believed, like Le Camus, that the emotional response
tification of practice, an explicit metaphysical discourse, or the in architecture depended on the effect of the composition of bodies
first principies of art, which, he believed, his predecessors had in their totality; they were not produced by particular details,
ignored. As philosophers extended reason's domain, its limitations whose beauty was secondary to the first impression produced by
became more dramatic, as did its ultimate dependence upon Na- the great volumes. Consequently, the general volumetric com-
ture. Criticar of the pretended autonomy of reason in Perrault's position of architecture was to be determined by the regular bodies.
theory, Boullée emphasized that architecture's ultimate objective, These rational and perfect forms, Boullée contended, were nec-
like that of any other art, was the imitation of nature. Extrapolating essarily found in Nature.
certain notions from sensualist philosophy, he believed that all All this reveals an intensification of the same intentions generally
ideas and perceptions came from the "extemal objects of Nature." present in architecture during the second half of the eighteenth
In order to affirm, as had Perrault, that "architecture was an art century. But Boullée's principies, a true "plastic metaphysics"
of pure invention," it would be necessary to prove that men could grounded in the tradition of French Neoclassicism, constituted
conceive images independently, apart from any relation to these the first effective possibility of rejecting the value of the classical
objects. Boullée thought that the extemal objects produced "diverse orders and its proportions without loss of meaning.22 Boullée never
impressions" on the subject, according to the "greater or lesser tried to explain how the elementar solids derived from nature,
analogy that they had with our organization."" The reaction by believing that the marvelous buildings of primitive cultures that
which man approved beautiful works and rejected others was a he so much admired spoke for themselves. He respected the in-
direct result of this natural reciprocity. effable mystery of the origins of a preconceptual geometry, part
In a collection of notes, probably not meant for publication, of the human order sirtce the beginning of time. His geometrical
Boullée wrote that the art of producing images in architecture bodies are Euclidean, that is, transcendental. Combining an acute
derived from the effect of the bodies and that bodies constituted rationalism with artistic sensibility, Boullée revealed the eloquent
the poetry of architecture, allowing the artist to produce buildings "figure" of the fundamental principies of Newtonian natural sci-
full of character." The essential and primordial bodies to which ence: the constitutive elements of its Platonic cosmology. Hence
Boullée was referring were regular geometrical solids. Irregular the geometrical solids were postulated as symbols of a transcendent
bodies he considered mute and sterile, confusing to the human order, representing ethical, aesthetic, and religious values, re-
vealing the preestablished harmony between man and the world.

136 Geometry and Archítectural Meaning

137 Symbolic Geometry in French Architecture
Boullée's theoretical projects invariably included centralized chitecture needs to study Nature."" In fact, bis work embodíed
plans, and their massing was determined by cubes, pyramids, the ultímate rational architecture within a traditional cosmos.
truncated cones, cylinders, and spheres. Their formal expression Boullée's conceptual scheme is demonstrated, appropriately
was characterized by large, smooth surfaces, practically devoid enough, by the well-known funerary monument for Newton.
of ornament, and by the infrequent use of columns. "The plan Boullée had in his house portraits of Newton and Copernicus,
of the universe formed by the Creator," wrote Boullée, "is the and his admiration for the British scientist was passionate and
image of order and perfection." For Boullée, architecture was unconditional. In the dedication of his project, he addressed New-
God's gift to man to help him make his home on earth. Symmetry, - ton .as the "subliine mirad! Vast and profound genius! Divine
"the image of order and perfection," was the foundation of the Being! . . If you have determined the figure of the earth, I
"constitutive principles" of architecture. The geometrical solids have conceived a. proj ect to surround you with your discovery.""
were therefore explicit symbols of a cosmic order that revealed Newton's cenotaph was more than a monument to the common
the presence of the Divine Architect and emulated His creation. objectives of art and science; it was the forceful image of a hi-
Architecture was not only the mechanical art described by Vi- erarchical and still undivided cosmos, of a fundamental, inter-
truvius, or even "the art of presenting images through the dis- subjective structure of values.28 Boullée's own depiction of the
position of bodies," but "considered in all its extension," it also cenotaph's internal space is fascinating. He described his anguish
recollected and applied the beauties scattered through Nature. when, atter going over the "great images of Nature," he could
Boullée believed that it was necessary to emphasize that the fun- not find means to reproduce them. Finally, he placed Newton in
damental role of the architect was to implement (Me- ttre en oeuvre) the "abode of immortality," heaven itself, designing something
Nature. His work represents the last possibility of an architecture apparently impossible: a monument in which the spectator would
of imitation in the sense of the original Greek mimesis, that is, be magically transported through the air, beyond the douds, to
as a metaphor of the a priori order of the world." Boullée's concept be confronted with the immensity of space. The entrante to the
of a transcendental Nature also decreed that the perception of vast sphere was through the base of the tomb, the only material
natural phenomena was but a vivid projection of such elementary object on the inside, thus forcing the spectators to stay away from
human feelings as admiration, terror, and happiness—these were the endless surface of the wall. This shape, "never used before,"
not merely subjective, "romantic" appreciations. Obviously a favored the creation of marvelous illusions. Appropriately pierced,
profound knowledge of this transcendental Nature was necessary the vault appeared to be full of scintillating stars and heavenly
to achieve a model of "architectural poetry." Even the four seasons bodies, and provided a quality of light very similar to that of the
are examples of "character" (the sadness of winter), which show clearest night.
how a unity of expression results from a combination of diverse Boullée proclaimed that only architecture was capable of re-
perceptual conditions. "[Nature, you are] so true that you, are the producing exactly the image of the celestial vault, and that it was
book of books, the universal science! No, we can do nothing precisely this potential to imítate Nature that made it superior to
without you! . . Very few men assist to your lessons and profit the other arts. Kepler's world machines or astrological globi of
from them."" the seventeenth century have been recently cited as precedents
Boullée's Platonic solids were thus derived from "the book of of Boullée's monument." But the cenotaph is not only a symbol
Nature," as was Buffon's system of histoire naturelle, which re- of the earth or a cosmological map. It is not merely a representation
vealed at each step the presence of the Creator. The solids allowed of Nature, but a true presentation of the Newtonian cosmos as it
for the constitution of a truly meaningful architecture, where each is perceived from the sublunar world.
building had an appropriate character with regard to the institution The sphere is obviously one of the elemental bodies. Analyzing
it represented. This of course represents a metaphoric relation rationally the properties of this geometrical solid, Boullée defined
between use or purpose and formal expression, or a more explicit it as the essential polyhedron, incorporating the properties of all
formulation of the traditional convenance.25 Boullée's theoretical the other bodies and reconciling infinite variety with maximum
projects were intended to "ascertain the measure in which ar- uniformity: "Its contour is the sweetest and most Huid.... The

138 Geornetry and Architectural Meaning 139 Symbolic Geornetry in French Architecture
sphere is the image of perfection."3° (Later Vaudoyer, Sobre, Le-
queu, Delépine, De Gay, and De Labadie employed it as a symbol
of universal gravitation, immortality, justice, equality, and wis-
dom.) In a truly Platonic sense, the sphere became the image of
agathon--supreme beauty and goodness. Issuing from Newtonian
cosmology, it symbolized the presence of the infinite in nature.
Of course, Boullée's cenotaph was not without theological im-
plications; it was an image of the supreme work of the Creator,
as revealed to mankind through science. Essentially, the monu-
ment is an absolutely empty spherical space, the image of an
infinite and immaterial geometrical entity. This is in keeping with
Newton's cosmos, in which the vacuum was a determinant factor.
In opposition to Descartes's Baroque universe, full of a subtle
matter in constant circular motion, Newton predicated an infinite
void.3' Only a small part of it was full of matter, whose order at
all scales was maintained by the force of attraction. AbsOlute time
and space, infinity and eternity, were not simple mathematical
figures in an empirical positivistic system. When he referred to
them, Newton frankly abandoned his cherished empixicism: "We
ought to abstract from our senses and consider things them-
selves . . There's besides space and time vulgarly regarded as
relative, as distances between sensible objects or events, an ab-
solute space and time, true and mathematical. These are infinite,
homogeneous, continuous entities, entirely independent of any
sensible object or motion by which we try to measure them. Time
flowing from eternity to eternity, space existing all at once in
infinite immovability. By observation and experiment we can do
no more than approximate either of these two absolute, true and
mathematical entities."32 Absolute space and absolute time were
dearly the two fundamental metaphysical principies of natural
philosophy. Attraction and order happened in God, in absolute
Boullée's design for Newton's cenotaph (Cabinet des
Estampes, Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris; reproduced
space, whose existence was implidtly proved through the math-
by courtesy of the University of St. Thomas, ematical demonstration of the law of inertia. Newton did not
recognize the contradictions inherent in the simultaneous ac-
Section of Newton's cenotaph during the dáy (Bib- ceptance of absolute and relative motions. The reason was, ev-
liothéque Nationale; by courtesy of the University of idently, the crucial religious significance of absolute space and
St. Thomas, Houston).
time in his cosmology.
Many important architects of the late eighteenth century tried
to reconcile, as far as it was possible, the geometrical space of
Newtonian philosophy with a perception of the real world. Their
objective was to transform the infinite and empty ideal space into
a human place of dwelling. The Newtonian synthesis helped to

140 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 141 Symbolic Geometry in French Architecture
reinforce the old belief among architects regarding the simplicity
and mathematical order of nature. Once reason could question
the mythical justifications of traditional forms, however, the
metaphysical principies of natural philosophy became more ex-
plicit: The symbOlic connotations of the vast .internal space of
Newton's cenotaph could not be more evident. Boullée's archi-
tecture presented to perception the absolutely empty, infinite, and
autonomous space of God.
Boullée's megalomaniacal concerns, evident in most of his
theoretical projects, were part of this obsession to give physical
form to infinite space. Referring to his design for a Metropolitan
Basilica, he criticized all previous churches as lacking in "char-
acter." In his opinion, "temples" should inspire a profound re-
ligious respect as well as awe and admiration. These structures
should appear "inconceivable" and overpowering. Boullée adopted
in this case the Neoclassical preference for trabeated architecture..
His own project owed much to Soufflot's Ste.-Geneviéve, but it
was the immensity of its internal space that gave the Metropolitan
Basilica its true character: "A temple erected in the honor of divinity
should always be vast. [U] should offer the greatest and most
astounding image of existing things [and] if possible, it should Boullée's project for a Metropolitan Basilica. Internal
resemble the universe."" perspective view au temo de la Féte-Dieu (Biblio-
théque Nationale).
Not surprisingly, Boullée criticized the handling of scale and
proportion in St. Peter's Basilica in Reme, which made the church
appear smaller than it actually was. Grandeur was what Boullée
advocated, and even horrendous images (for example, a volcano
vomiting Eire and death) excited, in his opinion, our admiration,
"Wandering in an abyss of extension, [man] became deeply hum-
bled by the extraordinary spectacle of an inconceivable space.""
Greatness therefore must necessarily be allied to beauty. The
immensity of nature was imposed upon man, reminding him of
his limitations while revealing a transcendent presence. Conse-
quently, anything that "appeared large" in architecture suggested
In the Metropolitan Basilica, everything contributed to the image
of immensity. The dome, painted like the sky, descended over
the back wall. The enormous colonnades receded in perspective,
emphasizing the building's depth. Borrowing from Gothic ar-
chitecture, the basilica's supporting members were hidden, so that
it appeared to be held up by supernatural powers. Boullée's use
of light, which he believed to be his greatest innovation, com-
plemented the scene. Indirect light, coming from an occult source,

142 Geometry and Architecture' Meaning 143 Symbolic Geometry in French Architecture
shone intensely on the surface of the dome. The evidence of its
mysterious origin thus produced "magical and surprising" effects,
evoking "the most míraculous images of Nature."35 The enigmatic
essence of this light symbolized its affinity to the Masoníc god
of réason, whose presence was eloquent in Boullée's own drawings.
. The notion of infinity went hand in hand with that of eternity
in Newtonien" cosmology. Boullée's great interest in funerary ar-
chitecture and his use of ancient models of this type in many of
his projects was therefore hardly a coincidence. By the late eigh-
teenth century, posterity was conceived as a form of eternity in
man's world and believed by many to be the only reward for
virtue. This, of course, replaced the traditional faith in an afterlife.36
Inspired by the pyramids and mausoleums of pre-Christian an-
tiquity, Boullée's monuments symbolized the age's preoccupation
with posterity, albeit the posterity of a brief heroic age: the rational
eternity of post-Christian Deism.
The monuments of Boullée and his disciples reveal an acute
concem with eschatological themes—a clear sign of the crisis of
belief that would become widespread in the nineteenth century.
Their projects, however, still represented a desperate attempt to
reconcile human rationality with the finite dimension of life in a
universe where God had not yet been expelled from
Boullée's "architecture of shadows" and "buried architecture"
were his two genres of funerary architecture: pale geometrical
solids in the dimness of moonlight or as parts of larger monuments
interred by time. This architecture, he thought, demanded more
than any other the implementation of poetry. Thus the pyramid,
one of his most important prototypes, becomes "the sad image
of barren mountains and immutability."38 Because it was the most
ancient and primordial of classical forms, the pyramid was con-
ceived by Boullée as a quasi-natural model. The most elemental
of bodies in a Platonic cosmology and fully endorsed by the
aesthetics of sensualism, it suited Boullée as an appropriate symbol
of eternity.
Boullée was not without his detractors. Jean-Louis Viel de Saint-
Maux criticized Boullée's projects in his Lettres. Referring partic-
ularly to Newton's cenotaph, he contended that this type of "as-
trological" building did not represent a true innovation since it
.had often appeared in primitive cultures.
39 Boullée defended his Internal perspective view of the Metropolitarr Basil-
originality in the Essai, claiming that although the mean used ica au temps des Ténéltres (Bibliothéque Nationale).
in the precedents cited by Viel might be equal to his own, the
Boullée's design for a pyramidal cenotaph (Biblio-
théque Nationale; by courtesy of the University of
St. Thomas, Houston).

144 Geometry and Architectural Meaning

145 Symbolic Geometry in French Architecture
"effect" was completely different. "I have discovered," he wrote, Ledoux ran a successful practice, and many of his buildings
"the way to put nature to work." Bouliée had a point, but Viel are still standing. But, like Boullée, he believed that his architectural
was not altogether miátaken in considering Boullée's architecture intentions were best embodied in his theory and in the theoretical
in the ancient tradition of cosmological building. Placed between projects that illustrated it. His impassioned text echoes familiar
the end of Vitruvianism and the beginning of positivism, Boullée's themes. He desires to discover; throtigh reason, thé basic elements
projects attest to the symbolic sense of elemental geometry in- of architectural beauty, whose fundamental principies are then
herent in primitive architecture's mythical horizon. This obviously to be revealed through his projects. These principies originate in
is pre-Greek and consequently antedates theoria. The symbolic Nadare, whose "preponderant harmony is the only absolute and
connotations that he attributes to the pyramid, for example, con- constant thing."" Ledoux maintairied that nature and art were
trast with the cool objectivity of Quatremére de Quincy's article related in such an intimate and exact manner that they deceived
in the Dictionnaire Historique de l'Architecture (1832). Unable to even the most educated men.
comprehend the primeval meaning of this form, Quatremére filled After acknowledging the vacillations in taste throughout history
long pages with historical descriptions and discussions of nu- and the existence of periods marked by a decadent architecture,
merous buildings, concluding finally that it was impossible to Ledoux argues for the reality and effectiveness of immutable laws.
incorporate pyramids in modem architecture. Like Boullée, he refused to admit the relativism that he read in
Viel de Saint-Maux's Lettres, a long with Boullée's writings, revea' Perrault's theory: "Teste is invariable, independent of fashion. . . .
an interest in unveiling the symbolic sense of architecture. They It is not, as previously believed, something attached to the fugitive
are indicative of the period of transition, when the true symbolic wings of the arbitrary, nor is it founded on conventions propitiated
richness of architectural form, necessarily grounded in the co- by imagination (conventions fantastiques); it is the product of an
herence of everyday life, began to deteriorate. Symbolization re- exquisite judgment passed by those brains that have been favored
mained possible only so long as epistemology accepted the by nature."" Instead of accepting custom as a positive force, Le-
ambiguous, irreducible, and enigmatic character of human life. doux warned architects against its dangers. Habit was, in Ledoux's
With the increasing irrelevante of metaphysical speculation in opinion, capable of altering even the way in which mankind
science, radonalized symbols became allegories. Boullée's disciples should perceive the divine. Avoid fashion, he admonished. Use
covered the facades of their buildings with emblems and inscrip- only absolute, elemental, and natural principies.
tions, while their master was still confident in the effective symbolic Architecture was, for Ledoux, one of the wonders of the world,
nature of his elemental geometrical bodies. a part of the "divine breath" that enlivened and beautified the
surface of the globe. Its absolute principies, however, could not
be reduced to the traditional Greek orders. Although their beauty
Ledoux and could not be denied, Ledoux argued that it was a mistake to
The work of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux has always been difficult to
Architecture evaluate." The two large and opulent volumes of his work L'Ar- consider them universal rules, applicable in all places or any
Parlante chitecture Considérée sous le Rapport de l'Art, des Moeurs et de la country; for example, the acanthus of the Corinthian Order was
Législation were published in 1804 and 1846 (although Ledoux not appropriate to northern climates. Only the sober and simple
claimed that his projects antedated the French Revolution), and Doric Order, which he himself often used, was considered adequate
to the French temperament and geography. This preference aside,
elicited both praise and condemnation. It is fair to assume, with
Emil Kaufmann, that while Boullée was concerned mainly with Ledoux maintained that a knowledge of the pentarnétre (five mea-
the elucidation of the principies of architecture, Ledoux endeavored surements, the five orders) was insufficient. True harmony could
not be learned from the traditional masters. It consisted in the
to apply these principies to all types of projects. His theory always
made use of exampies. He believed that this method, instead of knowledgeable use of the notes, that is, the basic elements of
a "cold and lethargic" rational discourse, was the only appropriate form. This harmony, Ledoux stressed, was best exemplified in
way to teach. his projects: "Such are the combinations of art, bringing together
all that which is divine; it is a mutual and independent accord

146 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 147 Sym6olic Geometry in French Architecture
that takes over the soul's affections, an irresistible impulse toward concretizing their expressive potential. It is sig-nificant that both
beauty, so well concerted that the gods have never given mankind Boullée and Ledoux prodaimed that "to be an architect one should
anything more perfect."'" begin by being a painter."" No one had ever said this before.
Unhappy with the designs of his contemporaries, Ledoux crit- The imitative character of architecture was thereby emphasized,
icized those architects who had Bone to Italy with the sole purpose and with it the origin of its meaning in reality, the transcendent
of copying antique monuments. Ledoux detested erudition, though Nature of the eighteenth century. Ledoux remarked that in order
he recognized that a familiarity with historical precedents was to reveal the life of materials, an architect should, like a painter,
necessary. Erudition alone, however, rarely produced exciting in- discover the infinite variety of textures on the surfaces of
novative architecture. The problem was, once again, the deval- According to Ledoux, the architect should have the freedom
uation of architectural meaning. Ledoux believed in the existence to imitate God's creation, which contained an infmite number of
of primordial forms, forms that had been ill represented and dis- landscapes drawn from a few unique principies. Like a painter,
torted through history. He propounded that these original forms the architect had access to "ideal beauty," presenting him with
could be recovered by architects endowed with a rich sensibility. a "colossal power" to create a nature within Nature. Moreover,
A new architecture, simple and founded on nature, was indeeci the realm of the architect was the totality of the heavens and
possible. "Man", explained Ledoux, "attained perfection through earth; nothing should constrain the artist's grandiose conceptions.
his.own sensations!"44 An artist of genius could therefore recover The architect is a creator.
all that which the preceding centuries had lost. Unlike earlier architectural theorists, whose works convey au-
Ledoux remarked on the differences between architecture and tonomy and a tranquil sense of assurance, Ledoux constantly
construction. Architecture was sublime, transcendent poetry, pos- invoked God to guarantee meaning in architecture. "God of har-
sessing "the dramatic enthusiasm of the craft, of which we can mony," he exclaimed, "free my voice from all measure! Ideal
only speak but in an exalted mood."45 Architecture is to masonry beauty is over and beyond the laws of man."" The architect
what poetry is to literature. Design determines the form, which should reconcile the powers of heaven with the conceptions that
in turn provides charm and vitality to every production. Ledoux customarily fulfilled the needs of everyday life. Although Ledoux
was convinced that the poet's genius is a divine gift. The Supreme recognized the architect's power to dominate nature, he wished
Being had created the world for man, making available to him to reconcile this potential with the designs of divinity, an agonizing
"all possible provocations by the attraction of moving powers task that at this point in history was already counter to the pre-
and divine purpose."" God gave the poet a delicate sensibility vailing trend of ideas and attitudes.
to admire His work. Why then should not the architect join his His interests in economy and hygiene should thus be understood
knowledge to the wisdom of the great poets? as genuinely philanthropic and not merely as compliance with
The architect, wrote Ledoux, places the spectator under the the new relations of production of the industrial world. The ar-
spell of the marvelous. Like Boullée, Ledoux employed the notion chitectural projects that fill his Architecture were still true micro-
of architectural poetry, meaning by it the necessity to express cosmic structures, symbolizing a hierarchical universe, presided
emphatically the "character" of diverse buildings. This poetry is over by God. Here is how Ledoux expounds the virtues of ar-
obviously not concemed with the invention of unequivocal signs, chitecture as part of his commentary on a project for the caretakers'
but with the discovery of meaning in everyday life. Referring to house at the source of the Loue River: "True and transparent
his project for a Pacifere (Temple of Peace), Ledoux writes, "If mirror of the Creator! My weak voice should learn to sing your
artists were disposed to follow the symbolic system that char- marvels! You bring Efe to vulgar darkness giving brilliance to
acterizes each production, they would acquire as much glory as mountains and trees, and evoking the happiness of the world."
the poets. . . Every single stone would speak. . . It could be said Architecture brought beauty to form; each project was like a new
about Architecture that which Boileau stated about poetry: In it, star, "its glittering light falling upon the earth and beautifying
all takes on a body, a soul, a mind, a face."47 the universe."5°
With respect to architectural materials, Ledoux also believed Ledoux pointed out that all nations, in spite of their differences,
that the role of the artist was to reveal their inherent meaning, recognized the existence "of a remunerating God that fills the

148 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 149 Symbolic Geometry in French Architecture
universe."" He criticized Gothic and dassical "temples" and de-
clared his preference for primitive rituals that occur out-of-doors,
in a mysterious and overpowering nature, identified with the gods
themselves. A truly eloquent modem temple should go beyond
prosaic reality and capture through imagination the qualities of
divinity: "She comprises an immense space; the vaults of her temple
are the heavens; her dwelling cannot be built with perishable
meteríais; time has not preceded her nor could it destroy her; she
is eternal and almighty; she is an intelligent Nature whose con-
templation is all light; it is in her that the soul finds the source
of its immortality."52 Once again, any modem sacred space must
embody the two fundamental concepts of Newtonian metaphysics:
absolute space, absolute time.53
Ledoux reproached God for not having enlightened architecture
with the means by which He has '.'shown His designa to other
high sciences," privileging them with the important des tiny of
applying natural principies. Architecture had, unfortunately,
"wandered away from the paths of Nature." This is why he
recommended that all young architects study the great book of
Perspective view of Ledoux's project for the care- nature and meditate about the great events of life. He believed
takers' house at the source of the Loue River from that the world constituted a unity, intimately related to artistic
L'Arehitecture Considerée sous le Rapport de L'Art, des
Moeurs et de la Légistation.
production, and that it was "governed by an immutable intelligence,"
which could only abet the architect's powers."
In Ledoux's Architecture, Nature was not only the good and
the beautiful, a source of health and the final justification of all
human institutions; it was ultimately "the house of the poor."
But the poor were miserable only superficially, since all men
"occupy but a small space." Regardless of his station in life, each
individual was responsible for his personal reconciliation with
Ledoux's god was the god of Newton and Voltaire, the Great
Architect of the Masonic universe. Interpreting in his own way
the Platonic myth of creation, he wrote that the Author of Nature
had composed the universe through "atoms;" then "chaos" de-
veloped and provided the world with "space". God countered
with the force of attraction, organized the celestial vault, and
excavated the depths of the sea. God was identified with not only
the immensity of space but also light."
It should come as no surprise that Ledoux was a Freemason
since the idea of a God geometrician, which was part of the
mythical history of Freemasonry, coincíded with his own beliefs."
As has already been mentioned, the fundamental ideals of Free-

150 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 151 Symbolic Geometry in Frena Architecture
masonry fell in line with the more enlightened collective aims
during the late eighteenth century. Its explicit deism and philan-
thropic concerns were widespread among architects, scientists,
and philosophers. And particularly significant is the intímate re-
lation between Newton's natural philosophy and the principies
of Masonic doctrine. This connection was alluded to by several
important Masons. J. T. Désaguilliers, a founder of speculative
Masonry in the early eighteenth.centur.y, was a member of the
Royal Society of London and author of several works on exper-
imental physics. He was also the author of a famous allegorical
poem, The Newtonian System of the World, the Best Model of Gov-
ernment (1728), in which he speculates that gravity and not God
extended its blessing upon the Realm." A. M. Ramsay, whose
conception of history was mentioned in relation to Langley, pub-
lished The Philosophical Principies of Natural and Revealed Religion
(1748). In this boork, he tried to prove that the great principies
of "natural religion" were founded upon indisputable evidence
and that, reciprocally, the essential doctrines of "revealedxeligion"
were perfectly in accordance with reason. Once natural truth was
established as equivalent to revealed truth, Masonic "religion"
could fully adopt the metaphysical principies of Newtónianisin.
To create a symbolic order in this context, Ledoux recommended
that architects use simple geometrical solids and figures 58 He
accepted the importante of proportion as a source of beauty and
of such traditional "immutable rules" as prudence, convenience,
and economy. His theory is less consistent in this respect than
Ledoux's House of the Poor, nature under the pro-
tection of divinity, from L'Architecture.
Boullée's, but his fundamental principies are perfectly coherent
with the transcendental harmony of the Platonic world in which
he believed. The geometrical figures and bodies epitomized "ideal
beauty" and were the elemental "notes" of architectural
Ledoux believed that MI forms derived from nature and could
be classified in two large groups: those whose integrity assured
the production of decisive effects and those that were only the
product of an unbridled imagination." The elemental forms, ac-
cessible through perception, were inspired by the geometrical
purity of natural phenomena. These "letters of the architectural
alphabet": the sphere, pyramid, circle, and square, were related
to the image of the world, "where man dwells and fights." In
Nature could be discerned .the "fascination of the circle": the
shape of fruit, the line of the horizon, the undulations on the
surface of the water after being disturbed. The geometrical ele-

152 Geometry and Arch lectura( Meaning 153 Symbolic Geometni in French Architecture
ments used in architecture could therefore become symbols of onciliation with everyday life are elucidated through the trans-
human values that were themselves implicit in Nature, thereby formation of enlightened reason into poetry,
relating the reality of everyday life with the meanings of insti- Ledoux attached great importance to "work" in his industrial
tutions, A simple and geometrical architecture was not only beau- city and created a series of unconventional buildings for cornrrnmal
tiful but good, propitiating the moral virtues with which Ledoux life. His main concern, however, was not production efficiency
and his contemporaries were so concerned. It would embody but rather the creation of a physical environment where man
could find true happiness. "Man," wrote Ledoux, "should not
agathon and yet be undisputedly perceived in Nature.
This perception of geometry in nature was reinforced at a dif- despise the benefits of Nature in order to search, in an imaginary
ferent level by modes of representation such as the popular aerial emptiness, for the products of inclustry."" Only a húmble attitude
and distant perspectives. The classical orders lost their detall, and, in the face of nature could lead to emotional stability. Ledoux
according to Ledoux, even trees were perceived as round or py- would thus start his projects from a careful consideration of the
ramidal from a distance. Aerial perspective had become popular site's natural qualities. His buildings were to derive their character
with many architects of this generation, who had first learned from the qualities of a place rather than to impose a priori meanings
the technique around the middle of the eighteenth century from or a universal geometry upon the world. Ledoux normally avoided
Jean-Louis Legeay. It is interesting to observe how perspective the description of the physical character of his buildings. Only
treatises of the same period often contained plates in which the once, in referring to his project for a school of rnorals, did he
geometrical orders were reduced to their essential geometrical attach a timid footnote providing a more literal, historical justi-
configurations, The influence of these images must not be under- fication for his choice of a cube as symbol of immutability." He
estimated. It should be rernembered that the inception of per- obviously believed in the eloquence of his images. In the universe
spectiva artificialis necessarily implied the geometrization of its of discourse, he was interested only in the poetical sense of human
contents. John Kirb'Si, author of The Perspective of Architecture dwelling, that is, in the activities to take place within the propitious
(1761), had written that compared to the infinite number of shapes framework of his buildings. The comments that he added to clarify
in nature, those used in architecture were very few: the triangle, the intentions of each project were, fundamentally, imaginative
the square, and the circle. The classical orders were, in his opinion, depictions of everyday life. The symbolism of each building was
nothing other than a series of horizontal square and circular to emerge from life itself and its context, not from a formal style
planes." whose elements might possess univocal and aprioristic meanings.
The buildings of Ledoux's architecture parlante were invariably The city of Chaux contained a number of peculiar social in-
cornposed of simple geometrical elements combined in different stitutions and private houses. Among the institutions there was
degrees of complexity. They were intended to be part of a new a Temple to the Supreme Being, dedicated to the God of Deism,
city built around the salt works of Chaux. Some of the industrial whose model was Soufflot's Pantheon. (This was also, as you
structures were built afid are still standing." The city itself was will remember, the model for Boullée's Metropolitan Basilica.)
designed as an oval; its plan was meant to imitate the orbit of Ceremonies held in the building were to have equal civil and
the sun, "the supreme source of life."" religious importance and were to stress the significant events of
Some historians have considered this city as a precedent of the life: birth, marriage, and death. A great number of buildings were
utopian urban centers designed by Fourier and Saint-Simon. Al- devoted to such moral virtues as devotion, conciliation, and union.
though Ledoux did formulate his proposals in 'social, ethical, and Ledoux's obsession to give a visible. forro to all human activities
econornic terms, Chaux can still only be regarded as the culmi- through institutions that embodied their meanings is highly sig7
nation of a tradition of ideal cities extending back to the Renais- nificant. His juxtapositions—for example, a Palace of Concord,
sance. The city of Chaux was not an anticipation of technological devoted to solving family problems, and a Temple of Love, where
utopias; it was still somewhere rather than u-topos. In Ledoux's man could satisfy his sensual appetites—betray a genuine need
projects and descriptions, the ideal is still grounded in reality; the to legitimate human life, life that is being increasingly deprived
Platonic‘cosmology of the city and its concomitant magical rec- of religious meaning while remaining within the context of a
traditional cosmology.

154 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 155 Symbolic Geometry in French Architecture
Perhaps the most interesting of his projects is the cemetery,
whose inspiration was the image of the sphere of the earth." Half
of the sphere was buried. Its internal space is ciepicted as horrible
and mysterious, a dark labyrinth of galleries surrounding the
immense, cavernous sphere, empty and pierced by a single beam
of light coming in through the oculus. Corpses would be placed
in niches along the galleries. Nature and particularly sunlight
were intentionally excluded, so that the overwhelming darkness
could convey an image cif nothingness, without relief. Outside
the austere .and immense dome, man would recoil at its
As part of his design, Ledoux included an engraving showing
the earth surrounded by the moon and other planets, floating in
a space full of clouds and sunlight. Referring to the planets in
his "elevation" of the cemetery, Ledoux asked these "insensitive
atoms" and "masses in motion" to pay tribute to the "eternal,
universal soul" who had prescribed their order with so much
wisdom. "God impressed upon the face of the stars man's grat-
itude."" Rhetorically, Ledoux inquired what mortal wóuld be
incapable of perceiving all that the Creator had done for him.
Had not the Creator "separated the elements", and is He not
responsible for all physical phenomena?
It has been pointed out that the presence of God was necessary
for Newton's epistemology. In Ledoux's interpretation, moreover,
the participation of divinity in the cosmological drama is dominant.
Any human act in nature would be senseless if such participation
were ignored. Hence the cosmos, itself an infinite and eternal
cemetery, of greater value than any tomb built with materiáls
prone to decay, becomes, in Ledoux's words, "the sepulchre of
Copernicus, Kepler, :Tycho Brahe, Descartes, and New-
ton . . confidants of the heavenly secrets," and also of "artists,
poets, and geniuses of all sorts."67 It is not by coincidende that
the eternal cemetery was devoted mainly to scientists and artists.
Science and art were not only reconcilable but complementary
in the eighteenth-century universe. And incorporating both reason
and myth; they provided man with jiistification for being.
The reference to Newton's cosmology was most explicit in the
funerary architecture of Boullée and Ledoux. The cemetery becarn.e
Aerial view of Ledoux's design for the city of Chaux, a structure symbolizing the reconciliation between Life and death—
from L'Architecture. the ultimate, ineffable enigma of the human condition. This in
Perspective view of a project for the House of Edu-
itself is significant. All else was soon to be explained by logical
cation, from Ledoux's L'Architecfure. reason. Ledoux emphasized, not without anguish, the presence

156 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 157 Symbotic Geometry in French Architecture
Plan and section of Ledoux's project for the ceme- of the Supreme Being via the contrast of an empty geometrical
tery at Chaux, from L'Architeaure. space within his dome and the "elevation," which represented
the cosmos immersed in a luminous ether; the two paradoxical
secret essences of Newtonian science became here symbols of
divinity and potential life.

Boullée, Ledoux, In the architecture of Boullée and Ledoux, geometry "recovered"

and the Origin of its symbolic connotations. And yet their use of simple solids and
Theoretical geometrical plans has been thought by some as an immediate
Projects precedent of the most common formal preferences of machine-
age architects. This is an assertion that on close exarnination does
not hold up. —•
During the eighteenth century, the notion of progress was ad-
mitted in architectural theory. Differences of opinion and taste
were recognized. And to the degree that reason was increasingly
used, the possibilities for speculative metaphysics diminished. In
his Oeuvres d'Architecture, Peyre stated that there was nothing to
add concerning the principies of architecture." J. L. Viel de Saint-
Maux, in a more radical vein, openly questioned the authority of
Vitruvius and the importance of proportions. In his Lettres, Viel
de Saint-Maux stated that there was not a single existing book
of real value for modem architecture. Vitruvius, in his opinion,
had only described the monuments of his own time in relation
to their dimensions; his reputation rested simply on his supposed
antiquity. Furthermore, Viel de Saint-Maux daimed that no one
had written how to produce "that enthusiasm that stirs and charms
the soul of the spectator of admirable monuments."" Ultimately,
however, eighteenth-century architecture required some kind of
general principies (rands príncipes} to confer meaning on archi-
tecture. The theme sketched by Viel de Saint-Maux in 1787 was
precisely the one that obsessed Le Camus de Meziéres, Boullée,
and Ledoux: the transformation of architectural meaning into an
intellectual problem—meaning that could no longer simply be
taken from tradition.
Eventually, the classical orders and proportion were réplaced
by the Euclidean solids, which possessed mainly qualities of scále
and symmetry. But even the use of these solids was motivated
by a symbolic intention. The geometrical bodies were considered
to be the most appropriate vehicle for reconciling man and his
institutions with an external Nature. This geometry was not a
Elevation of the cemetery of the city of Chaux, from method or operation. The figures were used because they were

158 Geometry and Architectural Meaning 159 Symbolic Geometry in French Architecture
believed to be the fundamental constitutive and visible elements "character" of the building was meant to derive from these cat-
of Nature. This is a Platonic symbolism that could only exist egories. But this did not mean that "form followed function."
through the Aristotelian perception of the world that had been This direct mathematical relation would only be postulated by
perpetuated by empiricism. It should be remembered that for the disciples of Boullée and Ledoux. It is also significant that the
most the eighteenth century, space was primarily the hierar- symbolic intentionality of these two architects could no longer
be embodied in three-dimensional buildings. Their practice—their
chical, qualitatively differentiated structure of places given to per-
ception. The continuous, infinite, and homogeneous space that actual buildings—did not conform to the ideas and drawings that
became an absolute locational framework for phenomena was most clearly represented their intentions. Thus for the first time
ultimately a concept of natural philosophy. During the Enlight- in the history of European. architecture—apart from the rather
enment, however, this conceptual dimension never became a sub- fragmentary precedent of Piranesi's Carceri—architectural inten-
stitute of physical reality; Euclidean geometry was not tions had to be expressed almost exclusively through theoretical
functionalized. projects that obviously did not fit into the new, essentially prosaic
Boullée and Ledoux emphasized the differences between the world of industrial society.
"scientific" and "artistic" dimensions of architecture. Imagination, The theoretical projects of Boullée and Ledoux, which coherently
which had always been integrated with rationality, was postulated synthesized the dimensions of mythos and logos in a context where
toward the end of the century as the basic means of producing traditional speculative metaphysics was no longer valid, and which
truly meaningful buildings. Previous theory, always rational, was took into account the a priori of the world and the ambiguous
qualified by Boullée as science, concerned merely with construc- nature of symbolization, were unfortunately disregarkled or mis-
tion. True art, on the other hand, was believed to consist in the interpreted by their successors." Their position in a period of
conception of rhetorical images. A fragile equilibrium existed be- rapid change inevitably. resulted in confusion about their work.
tween the spheres of reason and perception within the framework For example, Bodin, in his funerary discourse in Boullée's honor,
of eighteenth-century epistemology. Only in view of this context pointed to the great importance of his buildings and praised the
is it possible to understand the germine metaphysical concerns late architect's ability to determine precise cost estimates. Boullée's
of Bou_llée and Ledoux's architectural theory. theoretical projects and merits as an educator were hardly
Boullée and Ledoux wrote at a moment when positive science mentioned.71
was about to exclude metaphysical speculation from "legitimate" The Platonic dimension of Galileo's scientific revolution even-
thinking. As a response to this peculiar situation, both architects tually became the main source for technology's dominance in
transformed theory into poetry. Indeed, their writings contrast architecture. That famous phrase by Du Fourny, cited earlier,
with the cold analytical rationalism of architectural treatises written about the importance of geometry in architecture could thus be
since the Renaissance, in which metaphysical justifications were interpreted by nineteenth-century architects as an invitation to
more or less implicit. Once the necessity of a metaphysical jus- use geometrical operations, devoid of symbolic intentionality, in
tification in architecture became explica, the poetic transformation order to fulfill in designa structural analysis, and other building
of the universe of theoretical discourse was inevitable. Thus the techniques the technological aims of the industrial economy and
scientific and artistic dimensions of architecture could still be, if its demand for efficiency in production.
only in íntention, ultimately reconciled.
Ledoux, Boullée, and Lodoli (of whom more will be said later)
recognized very early on the possibility of using the traditional
Vitruvian categories as a metaphor to generate architectural form.
The use or purpose to which a building was destined and the
mathematics and geometry that endorsed its stability and per-
manence were treated poetically in the architecture parlante. The

160 Geornetnj and Architectural Meaning 161 Symbolic Geometry in Grench Architecture
In medieval and Renaissance Europe, the order of things and the isolated scientific discoveries. He presented to the world a new
social hierarchy were prescribed through revelation. The Galilean ideal of intelligibilíty, one that would eventually encompass the
revolution represented the end of an understanding by which totality of human knowledge. One can discern this as early as
man had always held a privileged position, while at the same 1671 in W. Petty's Political Arithmetic. It would be difficult to
time being subordinated to the discipline of the cosmos as a whole. overestimate Galileo's contribution. The epistemologicalrevolutdon
After the seventeenth century, the notion of system, or a whole he ushered in would one day wear the rnantle of positivism and,
made of coordinated parts (the prototype of all rationality), was later, scientism.
taken from astronomy and utilized as the model for the science The new philosophy rejected the texts of Aristotle and instead
and philosophy of the sublunar world.' adopted "the book of nature"; its "text" became the immutable
The epistemological revolution implied a radical transformation geometrical figures and numbers. Galileo presupposed that the
of the human condition. Medieval Christianity did not question laws of nature were mathematical. Believing that the real incar-
the inveterate cosmological tradition in which the astral domain nated the mathematical, he was incapable of recognizing the dis-
was perceived as the prototype of truths and values existing in tance between geometrical theories and experience. This illusion
the sublunar regions, But when the new science rejected the su- lay at the heart of all modem quantitative science, particularly
periority of the heavens, the universe was transformed finto a of mechanics, which became almost immediately the model for
whole comprised of common elements and governed by universal all intellectual endeavours.*
Earth became the "field" of an exact science, as precise as The idea of nature, which in antiquity was associated with the
the one that studied the motions of the stars. Modem physics idea of life (physis), could become an independent entity, and the
thus originated in the application of exact, immutable notions of correspondence between microcosrn and macrocosm could be
an abstract order (mathemata) to the sphere of reality. questioned. Thus the notion of a harmonic cosmos, full of an-
Modern seventeenth-century philosophy faced for the first time thropomorphic connotations, decipherable by astrology, could be
the problem of defming the relation between a perceiving subject replaced by the transparent universe of astronomy. Motion, once
and the object of his attention. Man was no longer an integral, considered a manifestation of life, became a state of material
nondifferentiated part of the hierarchical totality; he was isolated bodies. In the context of a harmonic cosmological order, contem-
from the world and other individuals. His attitude vis-á-vis the plation was given more value than action; and techniques did
world had to be modified, and two options were given to him: not have immanent value. It would have been sacrilegious to
either dominate and possess the physical universe or effect, imagine that the world, a living and divine being, could be im-
through mathematical reason, a new form of reconciliation. The proved by human actions. Consequently, one's intent was never
first of these options would become during the early nineteenth to modify he world's order but rather to discover and celebrate
century the task of modem technology. It is important to stress its harmonies, This traditional humility was indeed very difficult
that the presupposition of a mathematical structure of reality was to overcome. The fact is that in one way or another, it was per-
'impossible to justify ontologically. In order to impose itself, it petuated through Newtonianism and was not subverted until the
necessarily had to be proved through experimentation. Herice the end of the eighteenth century.5 But once the tools of physico-
importance of clarifying the sources and implications of this pre- mathematical intelligibility were forged, science became the dom-
supposition at the earliest stages of modern technological inant ethos until subsumed by technology during the early
intentionality. nineteenth century.
Galileo simultaneously desecrated the heavens and humanized
Modern science implied, therefore, a distance between objects
science. He postulated a field of unified knowledge that opposed
and mind, so that the latter could affirm its right of jurisdiction
the ancient hierarchical scheme in which the exactness of the
over the materiality of the formen This relation started to appear
heavens regressed to the confusion of earthly life.2 By connecting
during the second half of the sixteenth century in the writings of
mathematics to experience, Galileo founded modern quantitative philosophers, craftsmen, and mathematicians.6 During the sev-
science.'His overall achievement was much more than a sum of
enteenth century, the idea of dominating the physical world was

166 Geornetry and Number as Technical Instruments 167 Perspectiva, Gardening, and Architectural Education
explicit in the work of Francis Bacon and become a fundamental lightful that has ever been conceived," Palissy explained that his
premise for research at France's Royal Academy of Science and source of inspiration had been Psalm 104, in which a garden was
England's Royal Society.' In both institutions, technical and ex- described as a place of refuge for persecuted Christians.' Then
perimental investigations held the same importante as scientific "confused with admiration" and inspired by the wisdom of the
speculation. This was indicative of the role assigned to the new prophet and the good will of God, Palissy "imagined the figure"
epistemology, that is, the joining of the practical and theoretical of a garden whose excellent beauty and omament corresponded,
dimensions of knowledge, transforming the previously contem- at least in parí, to the biblical description.1° He declarad that it
plative orbis doctrinae into an instrument of power. was not his intention simply to emulate his predecessors, who
Implicit in the geometrization of the epistemological universe had worked without theory. Only those who have "acted correctly
was the possibility of transforming architectural theory into an according to the order of God" should be imitated. Palissy per-
instrument for technological domination. This situation, however, ceived "so great abuses and ignorante in all the arts" that it
as should be evident from previous chapters, was never free of seemed all order had been corrupted; laborers worked on the
ambiguity. Geometrical science throughout the seventeenth cen- earth with no philosophy, blindly following the routines and
tury retained powerful symbolic connotations. Consequently, the customs of their predecessors, ignorant of the "main causes" and
use of geometry to modify God's work, that is, the technical nature of agricultura.
actions of man in the world, was frequently shaded with the Palissy's interlocutor Gould not believe his ears. What need had
colors of traditional magic. a laborer for philosophy? Palissy replied that there was no art in
the world that needed so much philosophy as agriculture. Al-
though Saint Paul had warned men against false philosophers,
Magic and Bernard Palissy, a well-known craftsman, gardener, and architect, his admonition concerned those thinkers who pretended to attain
Technique was one of the late-sixteenth-century authors who considered divine knowledge. Palissy, however, regarded his philosophy not
practical knowledge more important than any exclusively theo- of this speculative kind but rather as a collection of observations
retical speculation derived from Aristotelian contemplation. He derived from experience. Thus Palissy avoided the dangers that,
was a fascinating figure who became very popular in Paris between for a traditional order, were irnplicit in his recógnition of the value
1575 and 1584 through a series of public lectures illustrated by of technique. Paradoxically, he achieved his objective through an
physical demonstrations and natural objects from his own col- incipient dissociation of the domains of religion and science.
lection, which included minerals, plants, and animals. Modem Palissy provided some practical advice, referring to the four
• biographers have overemphasized the liberal, scientific, and an- traditional Aristotelian elements: air, water, fine, and earth, always
timedieval spirit of this man who spent long years of his life conscious of their mythical significance. He then described his
trying to discover procedures for clay enameling. This rendering garden. The site was to be located near water: a river or a fountain.
of his intentions is simplistic, however.' This also implied the proximity of mountains. After having found
Palissy was concerned with a variety of themes, all referring such a place, he intended to design a garden of "incomparable
essentially to the transformation or configuration of the human ingenuity," the most beautiful under the sky after Eden. First, he
world. The first section of his Recepte Véritable (1563) is devoted would determine the "squaring" of the garden, its width and
to agriculture and reveals the mythical dimension underlying the breadth, in relation to. the topography and the location of the
conception of a geometrical garden. This symbolic program, to source. He would then divide the whole into four equal parts and
be modified and enriched, remained the basis for the majestic separate them by great avenues. In the four corners of the crossing,
creations of Baroque gardening. It drew its authority from the there would be amphitheatres, and at the endings of the avenues
meaning of Euclidean geometry and its necessary reference to and the comers of the perimeter, eight "marvelous cabinets" would
intuition. The book is organized as a dialogue in which the author be built, all different and "of a kind such as has never been seen
responds to questions and objections from an imaginary inter- before." Palissy stressed that his conception was inspirad by Psalm
locutor. After describing his garden as "the most useful and de- 104, "where the prophet described the excellent and marvelous

168 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 169 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
works of God and, contemplating them, humbled himself in His model was better than any copies. Palissy main tained that the
presence and commanded his soul to praise the Lord."n architects of antiquity had copied in stone the forms of trees and
Each extraordinary cabinet, containing a variety of fountains the human body, and therefore the "columns of the First Architect"
and mechanical inventions, was described separately. The mys- had priority. The bases and capitals were to be formed by making
terious iridescence of the enameled surfaces that were. to cover incisions and allowing the sap to harden. The growth of the
the walls and vaults of these grottoes was intended to be their branches would be controlled through "geometry and architectural
most prominent feature. Palissy seemed fascinated by the refiec- rules."
tiveness of enamel, a property traditionally associated with the Palissy was frequently accused of sorcery. In the eyes of his
symbolic value of gems and precious metals. He managed to contemporaries, he possessed certain recipes that allowed him to
achieve the same effect with clay brick through an artificial process control nature. His technical operations were still viewed as tam-
and described. his accomplishments as true acts of white magic. pering with God's order at a time when the line between white
The different colors, melted by fine, combined to produce evocative magic and black magic was becoming increasingly more difficult
figures, while hiding the joints of the brick construction, so that to draw. (Intoxicated by his freedom from religious determinism,
everything appeared as one piece. The walls, polished like precious man would eventually transform black magic into technology.)
stones, could be left uncovered, their beautiful surfaces reflecting But the mechanical arts, which had been given a new status
the fountains and automata. Each cabinet would also exhibit a during the early modern era, particularly architecture and gar-
clearly visible phrase praising human knowledge, emphasizing dening, were intended as white, reconciliatory magic; Palissy's
its transcendent value: for example, "Without wisdom it is im- primitive natural philosophy was only a means of showing respect
possible to please God," and "Wisdom is our guide to the eternal and following God's will in the best possible way.
Kingdom.' During the first half of the seventeenth century, the meaning
In the mythical universe adhered to by Palissy, his technical of techné was not substantially modified. An excellent testimonial
interest was totally explicit, and yet his concern was always to to this is provided by the writings of Salomon de Caus, a brilliant
establish contact between God and man through the actions of gardener and mathematician with interests in mechanics, archi-
the latter. Accordingly, he devoted himself to the clarification of tecture, music, and anamorphosis. His Les Raisons des Forces Mou-
technical operations. His "philosophy" was meant to guide human vantes (1615) is basically a collection of illustrations that, apart
action, but only within the established order. Scientific knowledge, from a few elementary machines, such as levers, pulleys, and
that is, geometry, mechanics, and alchemy, was motivated by gears, demonstrate the workings of marvelous fountains and
reconciliatory objectives. Palissy's geometry and mechanics dom- complex automata invented by the author. De Caus did not dis.-
inated nature, an early dedaration of their autonomy from theo- tinguish between toys and useful machines. Moreover, he was
logical speculation. In the end, however, this domination was a interested particularly in those machines that embellished his
forro of magic, and the empirical philosophy of agriculture drew gardens and inspired awe and fascination. His work also included
meaning from its own power of transcendente. garden designs that combined anthropomorphic and geometrical
It is interesting to note that Palissy's attitude actually led him schemes. As with Palissy, the act of giving form to nature was
to anticipate some of the principies of eighteenth-century archi- for De Caus a meaningful poesis,"
tectural theory. For example, the cabinets at the ends of both In the preface of La Perspective avec la Raison des Ombres et
avenues were to be completely natural. Branches of trees would Miroirs (1612), De Caus proposes to produce a useful work for
constitute architraves, friezes, and pediments, while the trunks architects, engineers, and painters, as well as to enjoy the pleasures
would act as columns. The interlocutor of the Recepte Véritable of speculation. He was very interested in perspective, believing
pointed out that all famous architects had provided fixed pro- that it was the only "part of mathematics" capable of providing
portions for their buildings and questioned Palissy's solution with pleasure to the sight.'4 The first attempts to structure a mathe-
the fact that the proportions of the cabinets would have to change matical theory of perspective date back to the last two decades
with the growth of the trees. The answer was simply that the of the sixteenth century. Mathematicians such as Federico Com-

170 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 171 Perspectiva, Gardening, and Architectural Education
Design for a grotto of Neptune, showing the mecha- Anthropomorphic garden, design by Salomon de
nism of the fountain, from Salomon de Caus's Rai- Caus, from his Raisons des Forces Mouvantes.
sons des Forces Mouvantes.
The garden of Heidelberg Castle as originally de-
signed by Salomon des Caus, from his Hortus Pala-
tinas (1620).

172 Geometry and Number as Technical Instrunzents 173 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
mandino, Simon Stevin of Bruges, and Cuido Ubaldo del Monte made it possible for seventeenth-century artists to transform their
wrote texts of great complexity, which were impossible to apply physical environment hito a symbolic reality. In this way, it also
in practice. Only during the seventeenth century did the use of embodied a symbolic operation that, perceived through sensuous
methods of perspectiva artificialis become truly popular with experience, evoked ideal truth and excellence. seventeenth-
artists." century Versailles, color, smell, light, water games, fireworks,
The problem of perspective is not easily reducible. Perspective .and, indeed, the full richness of mythology played a major role.
became strictly possible only when man began to view himself The meaning of the place as the seat of govemment and the
as a subject and external reality as a collection of objects. The - dwelling of the Sun King derived from a synthesis of the power
development of perspective theory is intimately connected with of geometry and its potential td enhance sensuality. The intention
the epistemological revolution and, associated with this revolution, was not to express "absolute domination" but rather to make
the fundamental dissociation between man and world, between manifest a truly human order.
body and mind. Cartesian philosophy postulated perspective as The theory of perspective could very readily abandon its intimate
a model for human knowledge. But it was not until the nineteenth ties to perceived reality to become pure geometry. This became
century that perspectivism became a true form of subjectivism apparent in the examination of Desargues's work (see chapter 3),
and was adopted as a universal prototype of knowledge. Only which, because it was so exceptional in its disregard of traditional
then did man actually believe in the isolation of his mind from practice and symboltsm, was rejected by artists. As a rule, however,
other minds and the world, thereby rejecting the fundamental the architects of the seventeenth century managed to synthesize
intersubjective reality given to embodied perception. And this, the dimensions of qualitative, preconceptual spatiality and geo-
of course, led him to accept no objectivity other than the evidence metrical conceptual space. Since spatium mundanum was identified
of •mathernatical logic. Even today it is difficult to admit that our with the ens rationis of geometry, the possibility of a conceptual
embodied perception of the world is not equivalent to perspective space appeared for the first time in the sciences and the arts. But
representation. The images of the photographic camera are taken Baroque space also retained its qualities, its character as place. It
to be the only true representation of reality.'6 Perspective, of was always a pienum, never an odorless or colorless vacuum. The
course, is only one way of seeing, corresponding initially to Carte- infinity and geometrical characteristics of Baroque space required
sianism and implying the impósition of a geometrical scheme on the sensual qualities of materials and their plastic representation.
reality in order to establish a relation between res cogitans and Baroque architecture emphasized the presence of space in the
res extensa. world of man, reestablishing a meaningful relation between the
During the seventeenth century, art, gardening, and architec- subject and external reality.
ture—disciplines responsible for the configuration of man's Baroque architecture conveyed the almost tactile presence of a
world—were necessarily concerned with the fundamental problem space filled with life and light, with angels and mythological
of philosophy; the reconciliation between subject and object. In figures. This contrasted vividly with the empty and homogeneous
order to endorse the meaning of human life, the arts had to spaces suggested by Boullée and Ledoux. Descartes, Galileo, and
confirm mankind's relation to the sphere of absolute values. Hence Leibniz rejected the existence of the vacuum. Descartes even rec-
the use of perspective as an ideal organization of extemal reality. ognized a difference between the indéfinition of geometrical human
The transformation of cities, gardens, and internal spaces implicitly space and infinity, which was the exclusive attribute of God."
demonstrated the belief in the transcendent nature of the new Perspective only made visible the geometrical infinity in the world
geometrical knowledge. But Baroque perspective, in marked con- of man. This was, in effect, a pregnant infinity, full of symbolic
trast to nineteenth-century perspectivism, was a symbolic con- connotations, which established a hierarchy with reference to the
figuration, which allowed reality to keep the qualities of traditional temporal power of the king or the spiritual power of the church.
perception in an essentially Aristotelian world. The great vistas The paradigm of the seventeenth century was to allow infinity
at Versailles are not equivalent to Haussmann's boulevards. Al- to appear in reality. The late eighteenth century, on the other
though by its very nature a geometrical operation, perspective hand, wished to create a new nature in which the infinite and
eternal void would be evident.

174 Geometry and Number as Technical lnstruments 175 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
Stage-set design by G. Galli-Bibiena, from his Archi-
tetture e Prospettive (1740).

,11/3>nria, tls•

• -

Perspective view of the stables and the courtyard of

Versailles. Engraving of the view from the palace by

View of Schanbrun Palace and Vienna in the back-

ground, from the gloriette in the garden. Project by
J. B. Fischer von Erlach and Ferdinand von

176 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments

177 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
The theory of perspective allowed man to control and domínate
his external, physical reality. Like other mechanical techniques
in their implementation of mathematics, however, this formal
control of the traditional hierarchy of qualitative places by the
rules of geometrical perspective was always an act of reconciliation.
The famous frescoes of quadratturisti like Andrea Pozzo were
supposed to be seen from one predetermined point of view, per-
manently marked on the pavement of a church. This revealed a
true hierarchical and transcendental vision that appeared only
when man occupied his place in the geometrical structure of the
Creation. Another type of perspective projection, anamorphosis,
involved the distortion of the reality it represented. Here a geo-
metrical theory clearly dominated and subjected normal perception
to its own wishes by placing the point of view in unexpected
places, generally on the surface of the drawing or painting." These
"tricks" revealed the artificial character of perspective and showed
the extent to which theory could become autonomous and control
practice. Although these projections had been used sporadically
during the late Renaissance," they became extremely popular
during the first half of the seventeenth century, when the theory
of anamorphosis was being written. Once it had been dearly View of the vault in the Jesuitenkirche of Vienna.
The dome is a fresco by Andrea Pozzo, an example
formulated, it became a scientific curiosity, a form that could be of the quadrattura method.
imposed on any content. Reality as presence and reality as ap-
pearance were not only intentionally disjointed, but the primacy
of undistorted presence was replaced by the primacy of distorted
During the earlier part of the century, however, anamorphosis
had other connotations. The architect J. F. Niceron devoted a
whole book to the study of this "curious perspective or artificial
magic of marvelous effects."2' His Perspective Curieuse (1638) em-
ploys the tone of a scientific work but develops in an atmosphere
of fantasy and myth. Niceron undestood the importante of applied
mathematics and praised Archimedes for having reputedly used
this science in the resolution of technical problems. He believed
that mathematics possesed many wonderful qualities. lt provided
the means for the execution of projects, was useful for the delight
and recreation of our senses, established rules of order and sym-
metry in architecture, and indicated how to build machines.
Niceron rejected all "useless speculation." His theory seemed
to be concerned only with mathematics as it applied to the trans-
formation of reality. The results of this application had, in his
view, a miraculous character. And perspective was important be-

178 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 179 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
cause it was identified with the "miraculous production".of me-
chanics, hydraulics, and pneumatics. It was his opinion that
perspective was indispensable to architecture, lending to it order
and symmetry." Explaining the title of his work, he wrote that
"curious perspectives" .were itot only useful, like normal per-
spective, but delightful as well. Calling it artificial magic did not
imply any illicit practice or communication with "the enemies of
- our health." In fact, "natural magic" was not only permissible
but constituted the "optimal dégree of perfection of all sciences.""
Niceron identified magic with the technical inventions that had
their origin in mathematical science. The beautiful and marvelous
effects of "the sphere of Poseidonius," which explained the con-
figuration of the heavens; Archimedes's mirrors and war machines;
and the "automata of Daedalus" were to him the highest examples
of art and industry. Thus "true magic or the perfection of the
sciences consists in perspective, allowing us to know and discern
more perfectly the beautiful works of nature and art.' 24
The dual nature of Baroque perspective is evident in Niceron's
work. By geometrizing the world, man gained access to the truth.
Peí-spective both revealed the truth of reality and reflected man's
power to modify it; that is, it was a form of magic. It is significant
that the more ambitious applications of anamorphosis to fresco
paintíng appeared in the convents of the Minimes, where some
of the most advanced ideas of the time were being discussed.
This was the order entered by Niceron and also by M. Mersenne,
the well-known author of a treatise on universal harmony, whose
letters provided an important link among scientists and philos-
ophers of the early seventeenth century.
Jean-Francois Niceron, engraving by Michel Lasne, In the epistemological Framework of the first half of the sev-
showing S. Trinitá dei Monti in the background, enteenth century, technical action could never be free from magic
from Thaumaturgus Optkus (1646).
or symbolism. This is attested to by the various texts written at
the time, which addressed the transformation of human reality.
Due to the nonspecializal character of the traditional episte-
mological universe, this transformation, in any of its forms, was
always relevant to architecture. It should come as no surprise,
then, to note the great interest architects had in fireworks and
other similar machines "for war and recreation"25 or their concern
for ephemeral structures, like canvas triumphal arches, facades,
and perspective stage designs framing processions and state or
religious celebrations: transformation that sought to realize the
symbolic potential of public space.
In 1652 C. Mollet published a book on astrology and Theatre
des Plans et Jardinages, a treatise on gardening.26 After some prac-

180 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 181 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
John the Apostle at Patmos. Details from the execu-
tion method of a fresco in anamorphosis by Niceron.
Works like Chis, executed in the monasteries of the
Minimes at Rome and Paris, would be inteligible
when viewed close to the wall plane, but hidden in
conventional frontal perception. Illustration from
Thaumaturgus Opticus.

182 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
tical advice, Mollet described the Aristotelian heavenly spheres phenomena." He rejected explanations based on "occult qualities"
and showed how to avoid evil influences from the stars. Praxis, and adopted an experimental method. Nonetheless, he described
for Mollet, was intimately linked to the conceptions of a hier- the operator of "practical mechanics" as a magician with mirac-
archical and animistic cosmos. Reality was perceived as the place u/ous powers. Instead of concentrating on pragmatic applications
of mechanics, he was more interested in describing such marveious
where man was in close contact with God. The gardener's life
toys as a walking silver cup or a mechanical fly that had belonged
thus follows the pattern of cosmic time: praying to God in the
mornings, living the day in peaceful harmony, and receiving His to Charles V. And the architect Pierre Patte listed, among the
blessing every evening. Mollet thought that this was the incor- other arts and sciences that had advanced significantly during
ruptible model to be followed by young people seeking knowledge the reign of Louis XV, the manufaCture of automata:" He was
in gardening. especially Impressed by the mechanical flutist five and a half feet
Stipulating a similar universe, J. Boyceau's Traité du Jardinage tall designed and built by Vaucanson.
(1638) describes the four Aristotelian elements as a reconciliation It is unquestionable, however, that toward the end of the sev-
of opposites." Boyceau declared that the earth had been placed enteenth century and coinciding with the cultural transformations
by God in the center of the universe, receiving from Him the represented by Bekker's work, occult qualities were removed from
power to beget and support life. The gardener should have some technical operations. The foundation of the academies, which
technical knowledge, including geometry, arithmetic, architecture, replaced the traditional guilds, and the institutionalizing of the
and mechanics. But urtimately, the traditional poesis of gardening, Corps du Génie Militaire and the Corps des Ponts et Chaussées,
which connects man to the earth (his womb and sepulchre), was were events indicative of this first exorcism of techné.
In his role as historiographe des bátimens du Roi, André Felibien
the dominant theme. Gardening and agriculture still did not take
place in a universe of precision. Its Object was never merely to attended the first deliberations of the Royal Academy of Archi-
dominate nature or to increase the productivity of crops. tecture. He was also appointed inspecteur du devis, and was in
After the seventeenth century, God began to retire from the charge of reviewing and approving the designs for the roads and
bridges of France. In his Des Príncipes de l'Architecture, de la Sculp-
world. This was an unavoidable consequence of the epistemo-
logical revolution and the generalization of mechanistic intelli-
ture, de la Peinture (1699), his interest was mainly linguistic. He
gibility." In 1693 B. Bekker published an important work that was concerned with the prevailing confusion of concepts and
shows the great transformation that had occurred between the names given to tools or elements, and his work was an attempt
seventeenth century and the Enlightenment. The Enchanted World, to define the parts and instruments of the different arts and crafts.
In his section on architecture, he praised Perrault's translation
described the substitution of supernatural revelation by nature.
Bekker did not stop at revealed truth. Since God had given man of Vitruvius and then pointed out that his own intention was not
reason, it should be used in our interpretation of the Bible. Sacred to write another treatise. He noted that there were a great number
authority could be criticized through the natural knowledge of of existing books on the orders, but only a few authors like Philibert
God that man possessed. Bekker expelled angeis and demons de l'Qrme, Derand, Desargues, Jousse de la Fleche, and Bosse
from the world, and miracles and sorcery he considered illusions. said anything about stone- and woodcutting or the trades of lock-
God was now revealed through the still inexplicable marvels of smith and engraver. Felibien believed that these few attempts to
nature, open to the perceptions of the enlightened man. elucidare the techniques of architecture did not present a complete
During the eighteenth century, craftsmen still operated with theoretical discussion. He was convinced that technique was a
care; they respected the natural order and were conscious of the most important aspect of architecture and wrote his Príncipes to
transcendent humility of action. The sacred nature of reality did explain the techniques and tools of the trades: masonry, carpentry,
not encourage mindless exploitation. Throughout the century, plumbing, windowmaking, blacksmithing, locksmithing, and so
forth. He maintained that it was important to have direct contact
there was a genuine fascination with technical achievements that
reproduced the wonders of nature. For example, C. C. Scaletti, with craftsmen, to visit their workshops and to examine their
in his Scuola Mecanico-Speculativo-Practica (1711), extolled math- machines. But it was at this point that he began to encounter
ematics as the true cause of mechanical, hydraulic, and optical problema. He could not find "reasonable" workers: These "ig-

184 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 185 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
norant and strange people" pretended not to know what he was
talking about; they "invented ridiculous stories" and hid the most
common utensils.3' The tension between traditional craftsmanship
(with its secrets and mythical frame of reference) and the new
scientific attitude of academie architects and engineers could hardly
be more explicit. This tension only ended after the Industrial
Revolution, when the transformation of the long-established re-
lation of production actually took place. Felibien's new attítude
to technical operations is nevertheless revealing. He associated
his work directly with the academy, presenting it as the result of
a common enterprise that reflected the interest of the most dis-
tinguished European architects.32
Intellectuals of the late seventeenth century also manifested
interest in technical and practical problems. John Locke declared
a preference for practical knowledge over the manipulation of
abstractions In De Arte Medica." Leibniz believed it was important
to describe the procedures employed by technicians and craftsmen,
a task made necessary and possible because "practice is only a
more particular and compounded theory."" The traditional values
of intelectual contemplation, still present in the Baroque period,
were superseded in the eighteenth century by values derived from
human action and man's eagerness to transform the world. In
his article on art for the Encyclopédie, Diderot complained about
the "harmful consequences" resulting from the traditional dis-
tinction between liberal and mechanical arts, which had produced
great numbers of vain and useless intellectuals."
The Gallean revolution continued into the eighteenth century
in the guise of axiological reform," and the cosmic reason of the
seventeenth century became trtily human. Once the a priori uni-
versality of reason was questioned, human rationality became a
pressing invitation to action; the systematization of knowledge
was deemed indispensable. Renouncing contemplation for its own
sake, Enlightened reason strove to join technical theory with prac- The blacksmith's workshop, from Felibien's Des
Principes de ['Architecture.
tice, and was often frustrated by the failures of the former to
influence the latter.
These transformations are apparent in eighteenth-century trea-
tises on gardening and differ markedly from the ideas expressed
in the works of Mollet and Boyceau. Batty Langley, who rec-
ommended the "non-stiff" type of garden in his New Principies
of Gardening (1728), criticized the "abominable mathematical reg-
ularity" of some French gardens. His own method, however, also
took as its starting point a detailed exposition of geometrical rules.

186 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 187 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
But it should be obvious by now that this is not a real paradox. Nor should he fail to consult Nature if he desires to be in harmony
For although Langley considered this science "the basis of any with it. Moreover, the gardener is likened to the astronomer, as
layout,"37 he was not capable of understanding the symbolic im- one who observes phenomena in order to fully comprehend them:
plications of a geometry that imposed its form on nature in the "The gardener contemplates Nature in the dark sanctuary of
manner of the Baroque gardens. For Langley, geométry was a the earth's womb, or in the mechanism of plants."42 Consequently,
tool, albeit one of great importance." When applied to gardening, Schabol rejected speculative methods.and contended that "ex-
geometry was supposed to reproduce the way in which nature perimental and instrumental physics" were indispensable for the
itself "strikes with astonishment upon man," surprising him with clarification of phenomena in nature. He realized that nature often
unexpected "Harmonious Objects." confronted man with insubnountable difficulties and enigmas
In 1711 A. J. Dezalliers d'Argenville published his Théorie et and that the diversity of phenomena was often astounding and
Pratique du Jardinage. Although it comes rather late in the Baroque disconcerting—thereby forcing man to accept the humility of his
period, it represents the first and last systematic exposition of the intelligence. In spite of this, Schabol believed hé could explain
principies of French Baroque gardens. This is in itself significant. some of the "effects" he liad observed in planta. It was not a
The geometry of the seventeenth-century garden hardly needed matter of presenting solutions or demonstrations but of suggesting
elucidation; its symbolic horizon was totally transparent. Dezalliers "probabilities founded on conjectures and presumptions derived
already cautioned against the use of extravagant features, pointing from facts."'
out that a garden should derive from nature more than from art. Thus nature, while retaining its evocative mysteries, became a
He thought it incorrect to sacrifice variety for symmetry.39 He book open to scientific discovery. Schabol, for example, could
included general rules, methods, and proportions and added a not understand why plants and anirnals, composed of internal
section on practice, "which is but a consequence of the certainties parts whose "functions" were very similar, were nevertheless
of theory." This, he thought, liad never been previously provided very different. In view of all that remained mysterious, the gardener
to the public. The description of practice contained instructions should simply admire and follow the laws of the "Author of
on tracing all sorts of figures using geometrical methods, both on Nature," whose will hides from us the causes. But because God
paper and in the field. had attributed "particular actions" to each one of the different
Dezalliers was conscious of the fact that to trace a layout on species of plants in the Creation, the gardener should not be
the field, actual experience and continuous practice was more discouraged. He should always respect and praise the Lord's
important than "profound science." He nevertheless insisted on design.
the importance of his prescriptive methods. The gardener should Schabol's work thus demonstrates the epistemological humility
be able to produce scaled drawings, and Dezalliers provided step- of the eighteenth century. His understanding of mathernata con-
by-step instructions .for this craft. In contrast to seventeenth- trasts sharply with that of nineteenth-century biology, for which
century texís, his theoretical discourse is a mere ars fabricandi, the identity of functions and structural similarities became the
Iacking references to the transcendent justifications of technical dorninant feature, leading eventually to a godless theory of evo-
action. It is significant that in this late work, the geometry of the lution and providing a formal model of classification that liad a
Baroque garden is already identified with the practical geometry deep and long-lasting influence on architectural history and the-
of the surveyor. ory.44 Schabol, however, also believed that theory, understood
Later in the century, as might be expected, natural philosophy as a technical set of rules, should be applied to practice in order
exerted its influence on gardening. The two volumes by R. Schabol, to increase production. In his Théorie, he complained because
La Pratique du Jardinage and La Théorie du Jardinage, published primitive intuitive methods were still being used. Earlier authors
posthumously in 1770 and 1771, bear witness to this. Schabol had not combined experimental physics with a knowledge of the
believed that gardening was the most noble part of agriculture" mechanism of plants, but Schabol thought this union was essential:
and that the gardener always "reflects on what he is to do and "Theory and practice need one another; their success depends
never acts without a method founded on rules and principies."" on their correspondence.""

188 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 189 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
This ambiguity was present in all technical disciplines during eye." This is the conception of perspective, popularized initially
the Enlightenment since practice retained its traditional character. by Andrea Pozzo's treatise, that would become common in the
Building techniques, in particular, did not change much. Around eighteenth century. It is significant that the closest identification
midcentury, the famous engineer Jean-Rodolphe Perronet received between perspective, architecture, and stage design also occurred
some rather striking repoits about the talents and abilities of around this time in Ferdinando Galli-Bibiena's Architettura Civile
mernbers of the Corps des Ponts et Chaussées, the most distinguished (1711). This work touched upon geometry and mechanics, whose
civil engineers in Europe: Picard, for example, knew practically synthesis was epitomized by Bibiena's own "invention," the scena
no geometry, mechanics, or hydraulics; he had some idea about per angolo. In this method of stage design, the introduction of
mensuration but encountered great difficulties determining cost obligue vanishing points created an impression of reality that had
estimates or architectural details. Also, he had no education and not been possible using only one-point perspectives. The iden-
found it difficult to design, to read, or to do mathematics." At tification of the stage and the city was also evident in the customs
Soissons, the engineer Loyseau confessed that science, art, and and dress of the eighteenth century, especially in Paris." The city
architecture were as foreign to builders as Greek. became a stage for the play-acting of-roles, that is, the represen-
Transformations in theory of perspective also revealed the ex- tation of individuals' stations in life. In a world where the absolute
orcism of the technical dimension. Around the middle of the value of conventions could be questioned, the traditional public
seventeenth century, there was a famous dispute between De- (social) order, framed by the architect's design, was still perceived
sargues and Du Breuil concerning the significance of anamorphosis. as indispensable for human Freedom and cultural coherence.
In 1653 Bosse published a work entitled Moyen Universelle de As the seventeenth century drew to a close, geometry increas-
Pratiquer la Perspective sur les Tableaux ou Surfaces Irreguliéres, a ingly lost its claims to transcendente in science and philosophy.
treatise that examined all sorts of strange projections. In contrast In his Studies in a Geometry of Situation (1679), Leibniz proposed
to the traditional implications of these "tricks," which were gen- a science of extension that, unlike Cartesian analytic geometry,
erally recognized in the early seventeenth century and appeared would be integral and not reducible to algebraic equations. But
in Niceron's work, Bosse emphasized the universality and sim- this project of a "descriptive geometry" more universal than al-
plicity of his methods while ignoring the qualitative difference gebra could still magically describe the infinite qualitative variety
between normal perspective and distortions. He made no allusion of natural things. This transcendental geometry was part of Leib-
to occult or magical characteristics; to him any projection was niz's lifelong dream to postulate a universal science, called by
merely the result of applying a common set of geometrical rules. him at various times Lingua universalis, scientia universalis, calculus
In his Maniére Universelle pour Pratiquer la Perspective (1648), philosophicus, and calculus universalis. From all the disciplines of
Desargues showed a precocious prototechnological turn of mind. human knowledge, he tried to extrapolate the most simple con-
He unequivocally declared his dislike for studying and doing stitutive elements in order to establish the rules of relation by
research in physics or geometry "unless these sciences prove truly which to organize the whole epistemological field into a "calculus
useful to the intellect" and can be "reduced" to effective action." of concepts."52 The elemental characteristicae generales were to be
Thus the same author who discovered the theoretical principies necessarily transcendental, referring to the specificity of things in
of projective geometry" and who took the first step toward a true the world of everyday life. Hence, his "monad," the differential
functionalization of reality also denied the value of speculative
of his calculus, was not a quantitative atom, but necessarily pos-
geometry unless it became an effective technique for practice in sessed qualities.
all the arts.
Leibniz draws upon Eudidean geometry to explain his char-
Toward the end of the seventeenth century, the mathematician acteristicae. For example, a cuche on a piece of paper is not a true
Ozanam also wrote about anamorphosis as a simple scientific
circle, but one of the "universal characters," a vehicle for geo-
curiosity." In his work on perspective, Ozanam denied the magical
metrical truths. It would simply be impossible to reason if these
or symbolic attributes of perspective, emphasizing that this art characters did not exist. Leibniz believed that there was not only
simply represented visible objects as they appeared to the human
a similarity between characters and the things they represented,

190 Geometry and Number as Technical Instntments

191 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
An example of F. Galli-Bibiena's scena per angolo,
from his own Architettura Civite. •



Anamorphosis as a scientific curiosity, from F. Galli-

Bibiena's Architettura Civile.

193 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education

192 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments
but that the order of characters corresponded to the order of geometry, being the only science capable of deterrnining figures
things." Hence discovering the appropriate characters in every and calculating motions, was absolutely indispensable in physics."
field of knowledge makes it possible to achieve a complete sys- Only geometry appeared evident in astronomy, optics, and me-
tematization of the universe, thus forging "a new crucial instru- chanics. Other phenomena, such as the illness of animals or the
ment for the practical objectives of humanity."" fermentation of liquids, althoUgh they could not be conceived
Leibniz's science of combinations was the last great metaphysical with the same clarity "dueto the great complexity of their motions
system it was, in fact, the culmination of a long tradition of and figures," were also, in Fontenelle's opinion, dominated by
conceptual structures founded on the belief that it was possible geometry. Thus was postulated the mathematical imperialism of
to reflect the absolute order of the cosmos. It was a set of rules modem science. Fontenelle's general geometry, at the level of
formulated with the intention of rendering all possible combi- technical action and mechanics, was without symbolic implication.
nations among the primary elements of things, thus making pos- It could be said that after Leibniz, the human intellect lost its
sible the "calculation" of their origins and destinies—an intention immanent power of transcendente. Correlatively, geometry and
similar to that of medieval cabalists and seventeenth-century Pan- number became mere formal entities, instruments of technique.
sophists. Leibniz's dream of an encydopedia related to a universal The Baroque synthesis was subverted at its very roots. And al-
language, however, was also not unlike the systematization of though Euclidean geometry maintained during the Enlightenment
knowledge postulated by d'AlembeM although it retained a das- a residual symbolic dimension, the Freedom and autonomy of
sical ontology, the work of Leibniz represented the moment of geometrical applications in technical disciplines was firmly and
transformation of philosophy into a general epistemology—an irrevocably established. This transformation propitiated the de-
episternology not grounded in the traditional notions of theology velopment of statics and strength of materials, as well as the great
or metaphysics. His vision of the consequences of systematization interest in technical problems that would characterize eighteenth-
was, indeed, a prophecy of technology. century architecture.
Early in the eighteenth century, Fontenelle, the famous historian
of the Royal Academy of Science, denied the transcendental di-
mension of Leibniz's calculus. In his Eléments de la Géometrié de Education: Civil The Royal Academy of Architecture was founded in 1671 to elu-
l'Infini (1727), he asserted that geometry was purely intellectual, Architecture and cidate the beauty of buildings and to provide a means for the
and independent of the immediate description and existence of Engineering instruction of young architects." The best architects in France
the figures whose properties it discovered.55 He emphasized that
would convene once a week to discuss their ideas, and the rules
infinity, whose existence it was possible to demonstrate in ge-
emerging from these discussions would be taught in public courses
ometry, was only a number, much like the finite spaces that it
two days a week," The academy's first formally appointed pro-
determined. This infinity had nothing to do with the limitless
fessor was Francois Blondel, who stressed the importante of
extension that was usually imagined in association with the word;
mathematical disciplines, geometry, perspective, stonecutting, and
"metaphysical infinity" could not be applied to numbers or ex-
mechanics, all within a Baroque framework. But in 1687 he was
tension, where it has always caused confusion.
replaced by P. de la Hire, a well-known geometrician and architect,
Fontenelle was responsible for the establishment of the program
a member also of the Academy of Sciences and a disciple of
to systematize knowledge at the Royal Academy of Science."
Desargues. Thereafter, the weekly deliberations were mostly ad-
Aware of the limitations of the traditional seventeenth-century
dressed to problems of statics, stereotomy, surveying, and
ontological systems that "knew it all in advance," he believed
that knowledge should derive from quantitative observation and
De la Hire introduced in the academy questions concerning the
experimentation. Without ever accepting Newton's philosophy,
equilibriurn of arches and provided solutions based on Galilean
Fontenelle endorsed the existence of a general geometrical space
mechanics." He broached the possibility of applying practical
in which all phenomena were contained. If all nature "consisted
geometry to the technical problems of architecture apart from
of innumerable combinations among figures and motions," then
symbolic or aesthetic considerations." In 1711 the academy de-

194 Geornetry and Number as Technical Instruments 195 Perspective, Gardening, and Architectural Education
voted many sessions to examine de la Hire's theory about the more than enough material for research. And yet architects seemed
thrust of vaults, and it was generally agreed that his rules were to be uncommitted, and their work was not at the level of "other
founded on sound geometrical principies. But because these rules academie institutions that every year. enrich Europe with their
were based on a hypothesis of infinitely polished voussoirs, the discoveries."" The identification of architecture with the ideals
architects realized it could not be applied in practice." The distance of science could ' hardly be more explicit. The rationalization of
between the theory of statics and the actual behavior of materials traditional practice and the establishment of truly effective rules
would be a problem throughout the eighteenth century. Still, the and precepts were always important concems of the academie
early detection of this issue is significant, for it irnplied a general program, but they would only become exclusive interests in nine-
perception of a very different nature than what was presented in teenth-century
the Baroque synthesis. Geometry could now be regarded as a Indeed, it should be remembered that the Royal Academy of
simple tool capable of determining the dimensions of structural Architecture, until its functions were suspended in 1793, always
components in relation to the laws of mechanics (with all the managed to reconcile reason and progress with tradition and a
problems of true effectiveness that this involved). belief in the necessity of absolute rules. Discussions centered
André Felibien, Pierre Bullet, and Antoine Desgodetz also pre- around good taste, the meaning of the great Renaissance treatises,
sented a great number of papers on technical problems to the and the significante of ancient buildings—all of which indicated
academy during the early eighteenth century. Between 1719 and a general belief in the transcendent character of mathemata. This
1728, the period in which Desgodetz was the holder of the pro- belief accounts for the profound differences, often disregarded by
fessorship, the weekly sessions were devoted almost exclusively historians, between the eighteenth-century academy and the École
to the discussion of legal problems and to the establishment of des Beaux Arts after the French Revolution. Having accepted art
precise methods of mensuration." In 1730 abbé Camus, also a as a synonym of formal manipulation, contemporary architects
member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, began to teach math- have often misinterpreted the meaning of the apparent reaction
ematics to the architects at their academy. - of the Beaux Arts against technology and its pedagogical programs.
After 1750 the architects' interest in mathematics and geo- It is important to emphasize that academicism, that is, the reduction
metrical methods generally flagged, while théir concems with the of practice to a rational theory, together with the application of
more specifically technical problems heightened. The discussions positive reason to planning (composition) and style (decoration),
now centered on, among other things, recently invented machines, became dominant only in nineteenth-century architectural edu-
techniques for producing better glass, methods for centering, and cation, after Durand's theory was published and taught at the
the quality of building materials. Perronet, Régemorte, and Soufflot École Polytechnique (see chapter 9). During the eighteenth century,
presented papers based on the results of quantitative experiments the academy provided lectures on mathematical subjects, but the
pertaining to the strength of materials. In his work on the origins architect was still fundamentally apprenticed as a builder. The
of architecture, read at the academy in 1745, G. D'Isle—while objective was to teach young architects how their work could
crediting Vitruvius's mythical account—argued that geometry's embody taste, that is, a meaningful order, rather than how to
role was purely practical. He thought it sharpened the intellect implement rules of formal logic.
and was useful for surveying, leveling, mensuration, and the The Royal Academy of Architecture was the only institution
drawing of plan and maps.65 in Europe offering instruction in architecture until Jacques-Francois
In a letter addressed to J. A. Gabriel, read at the academy in Blondel started to teach his own independent course in 1742. He
February 1776, D'Angiviller, directeur general des Initimens, ex- thought of ít as similar to other public lectures on physics, ge-
pressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of positive results produced ometry, and perspective, which had been offered by Camus, Le
by the ínstitution. He reminded architects that the academy had Clerc, and Nollet." Thus architecture became an important part
been established "to maintain and perfect" their art. He empha- of the Enlightenment's program of knowledge.
sized that teaching and criticism were not enough. Discussions Blondel offered an elementary course on good taste and two
on taste, physics, and the exact sciences provided, in his opinion, electives: one for architects, concentrating on theory and pro-

196 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 197 Perspectiva, Gardening, and Architectural Education
portions; and one for builders that was totally devoted to practical The curriculum of the institution did not remain constant, but
geometry and the mechanical arts. Blondel believed that architects normally it included algebra, analytic and Euclidean geometries,
should not only know perspective, mensuration, human propor- the properties of the conic sections, mechanics, hydraulics, and
tions, surveying, the properties of the conic sections for stone- stereotomy. Infinitesimal calculus was sometimes taught, but was
cutting or how to elaborate precise cost estimates; they should never mandatory. Physics, construction methods, mensuration,
be able to apply all there sciences to practice.68 Indeed, after and natural history had to be taken elsewhere. The engineers
emphasizing in his Cours the knowledge common to architects were also required to learn artistic drawing and graphic design,
and engineers, Blondel complained because the former, although - courses usually taught by such architects as Blondel. After the
usually knowledgeable in theory, "ignored the laws of proportion French Revolution, the Écolé des Ponts et Chaussées was trans-
in their facades" as well as the rules of geometry and trigonometry formed into a school of specialization for students who had already
in surveying. His dream of seeing students apply theory directly, finished their preparation at the École Polytechnique.
without first having to undergo traditional practice and appren-
ticeship, constituted a fundamental raison d'are for the foundation
of his school and is still the basis of most modem architectural Education: The "universal men" of the Renaissance were the first to concern
institutions. Military themselves with military architecture, that is, the geometrical de-
Only after midcentury did the fields of professional action of Architecture termination of the elements of fortification. They considered this
architects and civil and military engineers become more clearly science to be a liberal art. During the seventeenth century, military
defined. Specialization in bridge construction was, indeed, a rel- engineers were recruited at random among old officers, builders,
atively late phenomenon. Not unti11688 was official certification and architects. In spite of the great number of treatises on for-
required for this type of work. And until the end of the seventeenth tification that were published throughout Europe during this cen-
century, the title of ingenieur du Roi was granted indiscriminately tury, engineers always learned their craft from their predecessors.
to engineers, masons, and architects.68 Although the Corps de Until Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban instituted a compulsory
Ponts et Chaussées was founded in 1715, the need to unify sur- entrance examination in 1697, the French Corps du Génie did not
veying and design-presentation methods and to improve the have a defined structure."
training of young engineers did not become truly evident until The first official examiners were J. Sauveur and F. Chevallier,
1745. Finally, in 1747, Jean-Rodolphe Perronet was called to Paris two geometricians of the Royal Academy of Science. The marquis
and appointed head of a new official institution: the Bureau des D'Asfeld, directeur général des fortifications (1715-1743), wrote to
Dessinateurs. Chevallier stipulating the type of knowledge that should be re-
Perronet divided his Office into three "classes"; each dass was quired to pass the examination. The new officers had to be capable
based on the individual's knowledge of practical geometry and in drawing and mensuration of fortifications, estimating costs,
its applications to design, stereotomy, mechanics, hydraulics, cost and setting up construction schedules. They had to be familiar
estimates, surveying, and mensuration. In 1756 the Écol e des Ponts with arithmetic, geometry, leveling, and some basic aspects of
et Chaussées replaced the previous institution and almost im- mechanics and hydraulics, and they had to know how to draw
mediately acquired enormous prestige in France and the rest of maps. He recommended three theoretical works: Frezier's treatise
Europe. In his biography of Perronet, Riche de Prony emphasized on stereotomy and Forest de Bélidor's Science des Ingenieurs and
the importante of this first school of civil engineering. Perronet Architecture Hydraulique."
had instituted a system of mutual teaching, so that the most In 1720 the king founded five schools to prepare officers for
advanced students became tutors of their lens knowledgeable col- the Corps d'Artillerie; the curricula were based on common math-
leagues. Previously, the members of the Corps de Ponts et Chaussées ematical disciplines." But only in 1744 did a royal arrét provide
did not have a full curriculum and a sound theoretical background. the Corps du Génie with a general organization and statutes." In
Riche de Prony thought this problem had been finally solved 1748 the École Royale du Génie was founded at Meziéres, with
after Perronet founded his school." the ábbé Camus as official examiner. In 1755 his functions were

Geometry and Number as Technical Instrurnents

199 Perspective, Gardening, and Architecturat Education
extended to cover the artillery schools, and for three years both
Bossut's attempts to clarify the relations between geometry and
corps worked together. Their textbook was Camus's Cours de algebra and to find practical applications of analytic geometry in
Mathematiques. This work, published between 1749 and 1752,
building constitute two important contributions to the process of
discussed arithmetic, geometry, the use of proportions, and the
functionalization of geometry. His work surely stimulated his
basic tenets of statics and mechanics. It was. a rather elementary
young assistant Gaspard Monge, whose descriptive geometry
book based on Camus's lessons to the architects of the academy.
would eventually have enormous repercussions for architecture.
As early as 1753, C. Bossut, a member of the Academy of
When Bossut was finally appointed official examiner of the school
Sciences and "free associate" of the Academy of Architecture,
in 1770, Monge took over as professor of mathematics. After 1772
who had been appointed professor of mathematics at Meziéres,
a new curriculum gane greater importance to the teaching of
tried to introduce perspective, calculus, and dynamics into the
geometrical projections and perspective. Both subjects were now
curriculum, but the customary examination of Camus was not
considered tools of precision, indispensable to the military en-
immediately modified. During the second half of the century,
gineer. Geometrical drawing was studied "to find the configuration
more emphasis was given to experimental physics and practical
of any piece of stone or wood" in an architectural element and
applications. The abbé Nollet taught physics at Meziéres, and a
to trace the five orders, as well as the plans, sections, and elevations
new director, Ramsault, sought permission from the minister to
of civil and military buildings. Perspective was taught not only
substitute Bossut's course for Camus's. Ramsault felt that in order
"to determine geometrically the shadows of drawing or water-
to improve the quality of the school, the engineers should learn
color" but because it was believed essential for a true perception
algebra, analytic geometry, and calculus. Only then would they
of reality. The study of the rules of perspective "is necessary to
be capable of solving problems of mechanics, strength of materials,
educate the eye for the drawing of detailed maps in military
retaining walls, and hydraulics. But he also believed that these
sciences were too complicated for the majority of students. There-
This last curriculum, which thereafter did not change much,
fore he recommended that these subjects be taught in prívate
also included Nollet's course on experimental physics, natural
only to the qualified few." This undoubtedly epitomizes the age's
science, and visits to various industries. The vitality of the school
ambivalent attitude toward the possibility of solving technical
now began to decline, and finally, in 1794 it closed clown." Like
problems through an effective implementation of theory.
the École des Ponts et Chaussées, this institution was an immediate
Bossut wrote numerous treatises from a truly protopositivistic
predecessor of the École Polytechnique. The effort to link scientific
vantage point, insisting on the uselessness of compiling empirical
theory with technical knowledge had a long history, and after
data without a theory or hypothesis to relate them." His works,
1770, at Meziéres, this ideal carne close to its realization. Most
which appeared after 1772, were conceived as part of a grand
rnembers of the original academic staff of the world's first truly
scheme for a mathematical curriculum that was to indude, apart
technological school had received their education in the École du
from the traditional subjects, analytic geometry, algebra, hydro-
dynamics, and calculus. His Traité Elémentaire de Géométrie et de
la Manilre d'Appliquer l'Algebre á la Géométrie (1777), regards al-
gebra as "purely intellectual," using signs to represent general
relations, while geometry is considered "less abstract" and capable
of treating extension only in the figurative sense. Geometry, then,
"necessarily [implies] the participation of sight and touch" in
establishíng relations among fines, surfaces, and bodies. The text
also contained such curious problems as the tracing of arches
using analytic geometry so that their configurations could follow
the determinaté equation of a conic section.

200 Geometry and Number as Technical lnstruments

201 Perspectiva, Gardening, and Architectural Education
Treatises on fortification published during the second hall of the
sixteenth century utilized rules of practical geometry to determine
the configurations of polygonal plans and their elements. Girolamo
Cataneo's Dell'Arte Militare (1559) fans within this category. His
work, however, was not systematic. Unconcerned with the im-
plications of the geometrical order, he merely described a still
meaningful craft.' In Simon Stevin's Oeuvres Mathématiques, first
published in Flemish in 1584, fortification was discussed alongside
perspective, statics, and mensuration. This was perhaps the first
universal mathematical encyclopedia, a forerunner of the many
popular works of this type published in the seventeenth century.
The section on fortification was similar to Cataneo's, teaching the
tracing of polygonal plans through geometrical operations?
A great number of treatises on military architecture were pub-
lished in Europe during the seventeenth century. Practically all
of them induded a description of the geometrical operations nec-
essary to trace the polygonal plans of fortifications. S. Marolois's
book on practical geometry, Géometrie . Necessaíre á la Fortifi-
cation (1628), explained the use of the cornpass in surveying and
many other operations.3 Als.o described were methods of calcu-
lating the volumes of material necessary to build different parts
of a fortification. In another book, Fortification áu Architecture
Militaire (1628), Marolois used trigonometry to calculate the angles
and dintensions of these parts.4 Although fascinated by the pre-
cision of geometrical operations, he disregarded the problems and
limitations of reality. Significantly, irregular fortifications, whose
perimeters were not an ideal polygon, were hardly mentioned.
Another treatise with the same ínterests was N. Goldman's La
Nouvelte Fortification (1645). Goldman identified the art of for-
tification with geometry, claiming that the careful use of geo-
metrical operations was imperative for this "liberal art" to fulfill
its purposes.5
Plan of a nine-sided polygonal fortification, an ex-
Milliet Dechales's L'Art de Fortifier (1677) betrayed an even ample from the Renaissance treatise of P. Cataneo,
greater interest in geometrical operations and regular polygons. Architettura (1554).
All military problems were described in terms of fines and angles,
and the text itself was written more geometrico.6 But in the context
of Dechales's Cursus seu Mundus Mathematicus (1674), the geo-
metrical encyclopedia of knowledge that Guarini so admired as
an example of absolute certainty, the symbolic intentionality in-
herent in these geometrical operations becomes inunediately
The underlying intentions of seventeenth-century treatises on
fortification are perhapsbest discerned in Bernard Palissy's Recepte FACULTAD DE ARTES

204 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 205 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy
Vérítable. After confessing his ignorante of rhetoric, Greek, and In some early-seventeenth-century treatises, the magical and
Hebrew, this "humble craftsman" defended his design of a for- naturalistic aspects of geometry often appeared to be mere re-
tification against critics who accused him of lacking military ex- statements of order Renaissance notions. Such is the case in P.
perience. He thought that "military art" derived more from a A. Barca's Avertimenti e Regole (1620), which recommended the
natural sense than practice. HaVing received from God his ability use of square, pentagonal, or hexagonal fortifications since these
to understand the art of the land, he could certainly design a figures were symbols of the relation between the human body
fortified city, "consisting mainly of tracings and lines of and the cosmos. God, the divine architect, had created the heavens
geometry."7 and earth "with weight, number and measurement," conformirig
Palissy believed that existing fortified towns failed because their everything to the circle, the móst perfect figure. Man, on the other
protecting walls were not really part of the towns' architecture. hand, "is a small world. . . . His flesh is the earth, his bones are
He tried to find better ideas in the treatises of the old masters, mountains, his veins are rivers, and his stomach is the sea."12
but was sadly disappointed. In desperation, he turned to nature Similarly, P. Sardi's Couronne Imperiale de l'Architecture Militaire
and after traversing woods, mountains, and valleys, he arrived (1623) described regular fortifications using the human body as
at the sea. It was there that he observed "the miraculous protection a metaphor. It also stressed the importance of images in teaching
of mollusks like oysters and snails."8 God had given these weak the operations of practical geometry.13
animals the ability to build themselves honres, designed "with Gabriel° Busca's Architeitura Militare (1619) showed less con-
so much geometry and architecture that not even King Solomon, cern for practical geometry. Busca was more interested in the
with all his wisdom, could have produced something similar."9 history of military buildings, the significante of their geographical
Confronted with this marvelous discovery, he fell on his face and locations, and the relations between rulers and citizens. He was
adored God, "Who had created all these things for the service especially concemed with the rituals of foundation deriving from
and commodity of man.'"° ancient tradition considered necessary for the effectiveness of
The sea snail was clearly the best prototype for a fortified city. fortification. These ceremonies involved the tracing of orthogonal
In case of siege, the city's inhabitants would only have to give paths that divided the city into four parts (the Roman quadrattura),
up one compartment at a time, making the city practically im- which corresponded to the four regions of the sky, thus emulating
pregnable. The sections in a spiral plan would be not only beautiful the cosmic orden" Similar concerns can be detected in L'Archi-
but also useful as buttresses of the external wall, while in peace- tecture Militaire Moderne (1648) by Mathias Ddgen." Although
time, the walls could be used for housing. Palissy was convinced Ddgen was more typical in his belief concerning the crucial role
that only places that God himself had fortified in nature could of geometrical operations in fortification, he gave equal importance
be better than this model. He praised the "Sovereign Architect" to the description of the heroic deeds that took place in these
for his inspiration, which should, he believed, guide the "art of buildings. He included long sections in which he provided detailed
geometry and architecture." • instructions on how to conquer cities, taken from the "laws"
This geometry, which God had given to nature, was reproduced established in the Holy Scriptures.
by Palissy and others in their own technical endeavours in order A few exceptional early treatises showed a more pragmatic
to assure the meaning of their works. Jacques Perret de Chambéry's understanding of military engineering. Jean-Errard de Bar-le-Duc's
folio of plates (1594) illustrated polygonal and star-shaped for- Fortification (1594)16 advocates that individuals responsible for
tifications that were surrounded by inscriptions taken from the the fortification or defense of á city should not only be experienced
Psalms of the New Testament.11 Perret even thanked God for soldiers with military authority but also good geometricians. This
having allowed him to conceive so many marvelous war machines. would enable them to Invent useful machines and to understand
And war itself, signifying manís obsession to dominate, was per- how the proper use of proportion can save unnecessary expenses.
ceived in a transcendent light, as a ritual whose goal was to Consequently, a military engineer also had to be knowledgeable
establish order. Military architecture could thus represent an order in some aspects of architecture and masonry.'7 Errard believed
in which "all nations may praise the Lord" and "live according that the art of fortification consisted in determining the slope and
to His Holy Laws." angles of the foundations of walls. But although he included

206 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 207 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy
geometrical methods for describing regular polygons, he devoted
most of his work to the explanation of irregular fortifications.
This was the logical extension of Errard's belief that location and
practical considerations had to be taken into account before de-
signing a: fortified city. Simply imposíng an arbitrary geometrical
figure upon a terrain was insufficient; it was imperative to consider
its topography and other particularities. Also, Bonaiuto Lorini's
Delle Fortificazioni (1597) distinguished between the points and
fines of the mathematician and the true problems encountered
by the "practical mechanic," whose ability consists in knowing
how to foresee the difficulties characteristic of the diverse materials
with which he must work."
Whatever the limitations of these early discussions on the im-
portance of an effective technical knowledge, which were often
motivated (as it became clear in relation to Palissy's work) by an
,implicit recognition of the transcendent dimension of human ac-
tion, they do contrast with the seventeenth century's obsession
with regular polygons and geometrical methods. Count Pagan,
for example, could recognize in 1645 that the "science of forti-
fications" was not "purely geometrical."" Because the objective
was "material" and drew its inspiration from experience, "its
most essential postulates depend only upan conjecture." Yet Pagan
did nothing more than to provide simple recipes for tracing "small,
medium, or large" isolygonal fortifications, and he included in
his treatise only a brief section on irregular fortification. His typ-
ically Baroque identification of geometry with reality appeared
in two other books, published in 1647 and 1649. In his Théorie
des PlanItes, Pagan adopted the Copernican planetary system.
The second work, however, was devoted to astrology; its intent
was "to found this science on geometrical and natural principies"—
the same principies that lay at the heart of astronomy. The reader
may remember how the synthesis between technical and symbolic
intentions that motivated the use of geometrical operations during
the Baroque period was most prominent in the work of G. Guarini. Hexagonal fortification, plan and details from Feli-
bien's Príncipes (1699).
His Trattato di Fortifícatione (1676) appears to have been the last
book on military architecture that explicitly assigns geometry
symbolic or magical significance.
Inevitably, the epistemological revolution influenced the re-
duction of military architecture hito ars fabricandi, which is to say
in this case, the mies of practical geometry. During the second
half of the century, authors like Francois Blondel and A. Tacquett
wrote about "methods" of fortification and discussed their dif-

208 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments

209 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy
ferences." And Ozanam's Traité de Fortification (1694) took a
significant step beyond the Baroque world. Although Ozanam
did not discuss ballistics or statics, and while he still believed
that regular fortification epitomized the totality of military science,
his . exposition of the subject was thoroughly systematic. Every
problem was solved through a geometrical operation, and nothing
was left to chance or personal experience. He included a careful
comparative analysis of all existing methods of fortification, in-
cluding those of Errard, Pagan, Bombelle, Blondel, Sardi, and
even Vauban. In his Cours de Mathématiques Necessaires II un
Homme de Guerre (1699), Ozanam affirmed the priority of math-
ematics over other sciences, praising its potential to provide ab-
solute certainty. In this and in his works on perspective and
anamorphosis, this contemporary of Perrault already perceived
mathernatics as a merely formal science. He emphasized that,
unlike poetry, it did not "provide delicate pleasures" to our "spir-
itual voluptousness," its objective being "to prepare men for more
solid things."2'
However, it was the brilliant French Marshall Sebastien Le
Prestre de Vauban who first understood the consequences of the
Galilean revolution and effectively applied the new science to
transform military architecture. Vauban was bom in 1633 and
was an important figure in the consolidation of France under
Louis XIV." He was appointed commissaire général des fortifications
by Colbert, taking over from a man who apparently had known
very little about fortification and who had recommended Re-
naissance methods, for example, building bastions perpendicular
to the walls.23 S 1B,:h.S1`. I. E í'il.E T RÉ , D É VA 13 .A N
Vauban was responsible for numerous inventions and technical ...AL.Weeitai. de. Tra at't
innovations. Generally, however, he retained all the elements of le .1 u YI.A.CefrPt Arlo" 170'7
sixteenth-century fortification, developing only Pagan's notion of Ill11111501.11:1111111. 111 11111115111111111billithignill
"defense in depth," which gane greater importante to the "extemal
Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban, engraving by
works"—those parts outside the main wall. Vauban's real con- Dupuis.
tribution took the form of a fundamentally different attitude to
the problem. He believed the art of fortification did not consist
in the application of rules or conceptual geometrical systems, but
that it had to derive from experience and common sense.24 Em-
pirical reality and practical adaptability had to balance geometrical
Significantly, Vauban rejected the idea of writing a book on
fortifications," He was convenced that dogmatic systems were
totally useless when applied to different situations. For Vauban

210 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments

211 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotorny

TJNIV' . ...' 144CIONATI

FA...,.1. * : L..t: ARTES
Y r ,-7(..! is
the geographical and topographical particularities of a place were on such subjects as foundations, masonry, plan distributions, car-
of paramount importance. Only late in his life did he write a pentry, and construction of doors and windows." In a paper on
formal treatise on attack, defense, and entrenched camps, in which the functions of officers in charge of fortification, he attributed
he summarized bis experience and conclusions. He also empha- the high cost of these works to the lack of organization in their
sized that to understand his work, no knowledge of geometry construction." His 'method for the presentation of projects and
was necessary;" reality was more important in war than any reports was in itself an attempt to overcome these problems
conceptual knowledge. In order to besiege a city it was not enough through rationalization of the whole building process.
to have its plan. These, he said, could be bought in any bookstore. - In the same paper, Vauban also provided a profile of. a good
What truly mattered was a first-hand knowledge of the terrain military engineer. Young men willing to enter the corps should
and the city. have some knowledge of mathematics, geometry, trigonometry,
These apparently straightforward remarks are very significant surveying, geography, civil architecture, and drawing. He believed
in light of the epistemological revolution and Vauban's special that an examination to test candidates' abilities was necessary
interest in mathematics. His use of the mathematical sciences was and that it alone should be considered in granting appointments.
clearly devoid of symbolic intent. Vauban constantly employed After 1699 such an examination became institutionalized. That
arithmetic as a tool for cost estimates and statistics; his treatise same year Vauban was voted an honorary member of the Royal
is full of tables for determining, for example, the amounts of gun- Academy of Science. After his death in 1707, Fontenelle eulogized
powder, food, infantry, and cavalry that should be available in the late marechal de France," pointing out that he had brought
relation to the number of bastions in a fortification. mathematics from heaven to solve the needs of man. This state-
Vauban wrote extensively on diverse subjects, but one concern ment alone, equating Vauban's achievements to Galileo's, would
was preeminent: quantitative rational planning." In a paper calling be sufficient to postulate the marechal as the first modere engineer.
for the reestablishment of the Edict of Nántes, he utilized statistics Fontenelle also emphasized the importance of Vauban's rejection
to argue for the end of the deportation of Protestants, thereby of the older systems of fortification. Vauban had proved through
avoiding moral discussions and reducing the problem to a question his practice that there was no universal manner applicable to all
of political economy.28 In his study of Vezelay's census, he used situations. The difficult problems of military art could not be
ethnic and demographic statistics to devise a method establishing solved by fixed mies, but required the natural resources of genius.
a more equitable taxation law. In 1699 he wrote a report on the Vauban was also the first to apply a different sort of fixed
French colonies in America, concentrating on the potential of rules—those of mechanics—to determine the necessary thickness
Canada, and described the way to settle new towns through care- of fortification walls. His contribution represented the first true
fully planned stages." There was no trace here of the myths and application of statics to military engineering." Vauban also suc-
rituals of foundation evident earlier in the century. For Vauban, cessfully modified the shape and disposition of bastions in relation
only rational quantitative considerations were to determine the to the fines and properties of artillery fire. This was an old concern
choice of a site for a new city. No thought was spent on the expressed by the architects of the Renaissance. Vauban's seemingly
traditional question of the place's "meaning." minimal adjustments were so effective, however, that they were
The precision, order, and clarity of Vauban's own projects, in- copied throughout Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth
cluding his specifications and cost estimates, were novel and re- centuries. With Vauban, geometry in fortification became a truly
markable. The reports he prepared for each one of his fortifications efficient instrument for determining the configuration of elements
always contained four parts: (1) general precedents of the work; in relation to the location of artillery, topography, and the physical
(2) a detailed description of the constituent parts with reference characteristics of cities. His work and methods were totally dif-
to the drawings; (3) cost estimates after a careful calculation of ferent from those of his predecesors and contemporaries, for whom
volumes of materials used; and (4) special features or advantages the regular geometrical shape of fortifications was an end in itself,
of the work. His concern for economy and efficiency in building full of symbolic connotations, constituting both the most important
could also be seen in an earlier work that usted 143 observations part of the process and its ultimare justification.

212 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 213 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy
By the end of the seventeenth century, Vauban was already
famous in Europe. Even before his death, various authors tried
to work his contributions hito a "system," which only revealed
how difficult it was for his contemporaries to understand his
thought and the transformations it implied. Such was the case in
treatises published between 1669 and 1713 by Cambray, Pfef-
finger, Sturm, and even Christian Wolff, who reproduced Vauban's
- "system" in his Cours de Mathématiques." In the eighteenth cen-
tury, various publications still compared Vauban's system to some
others, and as late as 1861 Prevost de Vernoist defended Vauban's
method as the best." AH this notwithstanding, the number of
treatises on fortification published during the Enlightenment de-
creased conspicuously. Especially after the second decade of the
eighteenth century, fortification was no longer the dominant theme
of military engineering.
The engineers of the eighteenth century, educated in the new
technical schools, carne to reafize that the determination of the
polygonal plan of a fortification was only a minor problem com-
pared to the questions of mechanics or hydraulics, which had to
be resolved in order to build adequately and efficiently. This new
Detall for the externa] works of a fortification, from scientific interest was manifested initially in the works of Bernard
Vauban's Défense des Places.
Forest de Bélidor, professor of mathematics in the artillery schools
and author of three influential texts. Bélidor was a member of
the scientific societies of London and Prussia and a membre cor-
respondant of the Parisian Academy of Science.
In his most important book, La Science des Ingénieurs (1729),
he coherently outlined the discoveries and contributions of Vau-
ban. Bélidor, better than most, could appreciate Vauban's
achievement. As the author of the first truly scientific work on
military architecture," he criticized sixteenth- and seventeenth-
century treatises for having merely taught how to trace polygons
and the narres of parts without having dealt with the real problems
of construction. Likewise, he rejected Pagan's book and, signif-
icantly, all those treatises that pretended to disclose Vauban's
"system," works which, he remarked, the marechal himself had
La Science des Ingénieurs went into many editions, induding
two in the nineteenth century annotated by Navier, the famous
professor of structural design at the École Polyfechnique. The book
was divided into six chapters whose contents and objectives ex-
plained the "science" of the engineer. The first chapter was ded-
icated to the determination of dimensions in masonry retaining

214 Geometly and Number as Technical Instruments 215 Fortification, Mensurafion, and Stereotomy
walls (that is, the externa' walls of fortificaflons) in relation to
Bélidor's treatise constitutes the first methodical attempt to solve
the thrust of the earth and the spacing between buttresses. In the
the problema of construction in engineering and architecture
second chapter, Bélidor examined the thrust of vaults and deter-
through the application of geometrical rules founded on statics.
mined general laws by which to find the dimensions of vertical In his Nouveau Cours de Mathématique (1725) for the
structural elements with regard to vaults' shapes and uses in civil artillery
schools, he refused to deal with useless mathematical knowledge.
and military buildings. The third chapter analyzed the quality of
Instead, he applied the laws of dynamics to "the art of throwing
materials and their appropriate uses, describing the building pro-
bomba," summarized Varignon's book on rnechanics, and rejected
cedure for the most important parts of a fortification, "from the
the merely geometrical rules of late-Gothic ancestry that had been
tracing of the project to its complete execution."" The fourth and
often used to determine the dimensions of the vertical supporting
flfth chapters, significantly, concentrated on civil architecture. They
elements of arches and vaults (rules popularized by Derand and
dealt with technical problems, providing some practical rules for
F. Biondel during the seventeenth century)."
buildings, and included a long section on the live dassical orders.
Some interesting comments, from the perspective of the early
The final chapter was an example of devis: the application of the
nineteenth century, were added by Navier to La Science. Navier
science to one specific project; this entailed the precise elaboration
asserted that the hypothesis in Bélidor's solution to the problem
of specifications and cost estimates in the manner of Vauban's
of retaining walls was falce, that it was not "in accordance with
report for Neuf-Brisach. the phenomenon as it occurs in nature.' 42 Bélidor considered the
A conflict between a theory intentionally postulated as ars fa-
walls as solid pieces, disregarding the trae composition of masonry.
bricandi and an eminently traditional practice is explica from the
Nevertheless, Navier justifled Bélidor's hypothesis by pointing
very first pages. Bélidor believed that mathematics was finally
out that in the early eighteenth century, the solution had to appear
capable of perfecting the arts, but that very few people understood. .
as absolutely certain in order to convince skeptical practitioners.
its power.38 Artists and craftsmen retained greater faith in practice
In the second chapter, Bélidor applied De la Hire's mechanical
to solve technical problems. This prejudice, thought Bélidor, had
hypothesis about the behavior of vaults. Navier added a note in
to be overcome. Reason must elucídate experience; otherwise,
a similar vein, stating that De la Hire's hypothesis had been gen-
knowledge was imperfect: "In architecture, for example, no prog-
erally accepted until, after much systematic observation, a new
ress can be observed with regard to certain essential points that
theory was established late in the eighteenth century that actually
constitute its basis, in spite of the fact that this art has been
considered "natural effects." The implications of Navier's different
cultivated for a very long time."39 Bélidor declared that with the
standpoint will become olear in a later chapter. It ís important to
exception of a few rules about "convenience and taste for dec-
emphasize itere, however, the great significance of Bélidor's trea-
oration," architecture did not have precise and exact principies
tise, which was considered by Navier as the point of departure
with respect to "all its other parts" (for example, principies of
for effective scientific engineering, and which in spite of its "mis-
statics for determining the dimensions of structural elements and
takes" demonstrated technologícal interest.
avoiding the use of superfluous material).
In chapter 4, Bélidor focuses on the problem of distribution
Bélidor stressed that architecture, having always depended on
and the general characteristics of fortified cities and military
proportions, should by definition be subject to mathematics. Ar-
buildings. Like most French writers on architecture during the
chitects of the past, "lacking any knowledge of rnechanics or
eighteenth century, he considered "convenience" a fundamental
algebra," had always created excessively expensive works; they
value. Consequently, he wished to provide general rules for
had been incapable of saving material since they were unsure
building derived from common sense, but which also posited a
about the stability of their buildings. Young architects, admitted
relation between physical proportions in general and convenience.
Bélidor, lean-1 through experience, but they should not waste their
Although engineers could not pretend to be first-rate architects,
lives repeating what had already been done. He thought it was
they should appreciate the proportions necessary for a building
possible to replace experience by an ars fabricandi based on ge-
to be "comfortable and graceful." After Bélidor's description of
ometry and mathematics: "This knowledge will be as instructive
building detalla and construction systems, Navier added a note
as their own practice.""
indicating that anything missing could be found in Rondelet's

216 Geometry and Number as Technical lnstruments 217 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy
Art de Batir (1802). The relation established between Bélidor's
Science and the first truly effective textbook on construction is,
once again, highly revealing.43
The theme of the sixth chapter would also receive its definitive
formulation toward the beginning of the nineteenth century in
Rondelet's book. This was the elaboration of devis, or the de-
scription of comprehensive programs for the planning of building
operations that included, at a conceptual level, considerations that
had been previously taken into account only through practice.
Bélidor stressed that these programs were the most important
part of engineering theory since they discussed detailed specifi-
cations, the order in which the work must proceed, exact di-
mensions of even the smallest parts, and "all circumstances of
construction" that might help to prevent accidenta." These pro-
grams were already attempts to reduce practice to a preconceived
rational plan. Bélidor took the idea from Vauban and perhaps
also from Pierre Bullet, an architect of the academy who, also
late in the seventeenth century, had shown the importante of
devis in architecture. But in his Science, Bélidor defined precisely
the objectives of such programs, assertirtg their crucial importante
for scientific building.
Píate showing the parts of the Tuscan and the Doric
Now we come to what might appear as the odd chapter from orders, from Bélidor's Science des Ingénieurs.
the standpoint of nineteenth- and twentieth-century engineering.
For Bélidor, an engineer should be as capable of building a palace
as a fortification, and chapter 5 betrays his traditional concern
with decoration. Significantly, he also criticized in this context
Baroque treatises that had ignored the rules of "Vitruvius, Palladio,
Vignola or Scamozzi" and taught instead only methods for tracing
polygons." Bélidor was also critical of "the confusion of Gothic
architecture" and the exaggerations of Baroque artists like Guar-
ini." He obviously rejected all magical and symbolic implications
of Baroque geometrical operations, but he believed instead that
the rules of the classical orders were extremely important for
engineers. So rather than trying to improve upon the "science"
of proportions, which "had already attained a high degree of
perfection," he chose to reproduce Vignola's rules "for the sim-
plicity of [Vignola's] recommended measurements.""
After repeating the Vitruvian myth on the origin of the orders,
Bélidor devoted more than seventy pages to their tales. He then
set down some maxims on the problem of "distribution"—in his
opinion, the most essential part of architecture because it dealt
with the efficient use of available land." Bélidor's "wise appre-
ciation" of this problem won the approval of Navier, who pointed

219 fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy

218 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments
out that these maxims had been consecrated and developed by rules conceming the resolution of problems in mechanics that
Durand in his Précis des Lecons and were "treasured" by the had been in use fifty years earlier. Even more revealing was De
students of the École Polytechnique. Navier added, however, that Fallois's attempt to establish the fundamental and general prin-
other aspects of this chapter were not as important as Bélidor cipies of military building. Following a trairt.of thought very similar
had imagined. For example, the rules of the classical orders were to Laugier's, and obsessed like so many of his contemporaries
useful but not fundamental. "The architect," wrote Navier, "should with finding the natural origin of his activity, De Fallois drew up
know them like a writer grasps the use of language. With this fifteen basic principies that could be derived from the original
knowledge, however, one can still produce very bad works."49 character of primitive fortification: man's need to defend himself
For Navier, the rules of the orders were already a formal system, from animals and other men. This mythical history clearly acted
which was not necessarily meaningful in itself. In his opinion, as a metaphysical justification for established principies. This was
only Durand had been capable of truly dvercoming old prejudices perhaps the last work on military engineering in which a myth
by placing architecture on solid and positive grounds that rec- constituted the ultimate foundation of practice and such specu-
ognized convenience as a unique and exclusive principie: "a perfect lation was intended to ensure the transcendence of military
relation established between the disposition of a building and the building.
use to which it is destined."" Navier emphasized that design was
nothing more than "the resolution of a problem whose data are
found in the conditions of solidity, economy,and utility that the Mensuration At this point, it is important to examine the applications of practical
work must fulfill."" Durand had shown how this principie of geometry and arithmetic to mensuration, surveying, and other
convenience, far from contradicting decoration, was the only sure aspects of the building craft. In Bernard Palissy's Recepte Véritable,
guide to providing building with true character and beauty.52 the symbolic content of practical geometry used in the configu-
The similarities and differences that Navier observed between ration of the physical world is made evident by its inclusion in
Bélidor and Durand are significant and illuminate the immense the traditional anthropocosmological structure. This is brought
distante between them. Bélidor clearly attached great importance out in an imaginary midnight dialogue among his instrumenta 5a
•to traditional architectural theory and imagined it as part of the The compass, the ruler, the plummet, the level, the astrolabe,
science of the engineer, perceiving no contradictions between the and a fixed and an adjustable triangle discuss their respective
two fields. To his way of thinking, the time-honored Vitruvian attributes, stating the roles they play in construction and the met-
categories of decoration, distribution, and solidity of construction aphors they embody. The compass, for example, demands a place
were not independent values, but arose from more fundamental, of honor among the others, being in charge of "conducting the
unstated and irreducible symbolic intentions. measure of all things... . Men without compass are admonished
In this respect, it is interesting to note how Vauban defended and asked to live according to the compass." The ruler describes
his projects to beautify the gateways of his fortifications from its meras in these tercos: "I conduct all things directly.... Of an
official criticism. While Louvois cared only to save the money individual of dissolute customs, one says he leads an unrulylife. . . .
and effort involved in this task, Vauban insisted upon the im- Without me he cannot live rightly." And the triangle claims, "I
portance of entry and its meaning. The presence of this residual determine the perpendicular angles of comers.. . No building
symbolism, perhaps not suprising in Bélidor's teacher, appeared could stand without my help." The astrolabe then points out that
even more explicitly after 1750. The engineer Joseph de Fallois it has the greatest merit because its domain is beyond the clouds
published in 1768 a work entitled L'École de la Fortification, whose and it determines the weather, the seasons, fertility, and sterility.
stated objective was to enlarge upon Bélidor's Science.53 It might Finally intervening in the noisy dispute, Palissy teils his instru-
be expected that this work would develop the scientific principies menta that the true place of honor belongs to man, who gave
and technological interests found in Bélidor's book. Instead, De them all forro.
Fallois emphasized the importance of geometrical methods for The use of practical geometry for-the tracing of walls and foun-
tracing the plans of polygonal fortifications; he also reproduced dations (in order to ensure verticality or symmetry) is obviously
Colhorn and Vauban's "systems" and repeated some of the same as old as the building craft itself. Only toward the end of the
Renaissance, however, did concerns with mensuration and to-

220 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 221 Fortificatíon, Mensuration, and Stereotoniy
pography become more dominant, as the theoretical universe of of theoretical principies, he revealed a fascination with geometrical
these sciences acquired greater specificity. The initial attempt to exercises. We need only remember here Guarini's reduction of
systematize the processes of measurement appeared in Leone all architectural elements to geometrical figures in his Modo de
Battista Alberti's Ludí Matematici,55 while the first of a long series Misurare le Fabriche.62 All construction techniques were subsumed
of books on the subject appears to have been Cosimo Bartoli's in a transcendental and universal geometrical science.
Del Modo de Misurare le Dístantie (1564), which was followed in Only toward the end of the seventeenth century did treatises
1565 by Silvio Belli's Libro del Misurar con la Vista. Belli taught on practical geometry begin to reveal an interest to relate it directly
how to measure distances using an instrument, the quadrato geo- and effectively to actual problems of building. Coinciding with
metrico, that employed the law of similar triangles.56 the epistemological transfoi:mations of this time, the use of ge-
The military engineer G. Cataneo also published a book on ometry and mathematics to solve problems of construction as-
mensuration in 1584." His work was unsystematic and practically sumed an unprecedented importance—thereafter becoming
impossible to apply. But the fundamental purpose of measuring essential for the success of any building task. Geometry and men-
all sorts of areas and volumes and providing methods for surveying suration ceased to be an end in themselves, but began to be
was already evident and would be discussed in similar treatises applied as mere tools for the elaboration of construction programs
for the next hundred years. Simon Stevin included a section on and cost estimates. This transformation was evident initially in
practical geometry in his Oeuvres Mathématiques.58 Stevin stressed the works of Fierre Bullet (1639-1716), one of the first elected
the importante of this science, explaining the special "communion" members to the Royal Academy of Architecture. His name was
that existed between extension and number: "What can be done frequently associated in the minutes with discussions on technical
to one, it is also possible to do to the other."59 He dealt with problems." In 1675 he published Traité de l'Usage du Pantombtre,
problems of mensuration in terms of addition, subtraction, mul- which illustrated the use of an instrument for determining all
tiplication, or division of limes, areas, and volumes. His "arithmetic sorts of topographic angles and accessible and inaccessible dis-
geometry" was not only a forerunner of Descartes's analytic ge- tances; and in 1688 he published Traité du Nivellement, which
ometry but also showed how difficult it was to conceive math- provided the theory and practice of another leveling instrument
ematics as an abstract science, devoid of figure and apart from he had invented. Following in the steps of De la Hire, Bullet saw
reality. the possibilities in applying the laws of mechanics to architecture
In the new intellectual atmosphere of the Baroque period, tea- and wrote a few papers on the subject."
tises on practical geometry proliferated and were simplified. But Bullet's most important work, however, was his Architecture
the authors of these works never seemed particularly interested Pratique, published initially in 1691 and then quite often during
in the effective applicability of their theories. The geometry of the eighteenth century. This was the first book to provide a con-
the seventeenth century, even on this level, basked in an aura of crete application of mathematics to the problems of mensuration
transcendental abstraction. Some texts, as in Stevin's case, were and the determination of volumes in MI types of building oper-
part of universal geometrical systems. Milliet Dechales included ations." Bullet claimed he had been shocked when he realized
in his Cursus seu Mundus Mathematicus (1674) a dissertation on that there were no treatises on a subject that was "an absolutely
practical geometry that was mindful of trigonometry and ster- indispensable science for determining with precision the cost of
eometry." Other authors described specific instruments of mea- a building." Bullet was familiar with earlier works by Du Cerceau
surement; for example, Casati's "proportional compass" and and Louis Savot, which included measurements on the buildings
Ozanam's universal "geometrical square," which was capable "of they illustrated and some notions about the determination of
solving all the problems of practical geometry without the use of volumes of materials, but these were unsystematic operations
calculations."" Ozanam also wrote in 1684 a comprehensive trea- without a true method."
tise on practical geometry in which the methods for determining Bullet acknowledged that the theory of architecture included
areas and volumes were precise and easily applicable. But this the principies of proportion (necessary to harmony and decorum),
was still not the main concern of his book. Avoiding the exposition good judgment, drawing, the reading of important authors, the

222 Geometry and Nurnber as Technical Instruments 223 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy
study of ancient and modem buildirtgs, and mathematics (mainly
geometry)." But he also insisted that to be an architect, practice
was indispensable; it did not suffice to be an homme des lettres.6$
Bullet's Architecture started with a general introduction to prac-
tical geometry, followed by a careful description of the construction
of the typical parts of a building by way of explaining the op-
erations of measurement. A rule based on mechanics was put
forward for determining the thickness of a retaining wall in relation
to its height and the thrust of the earth. (This was the same
problem that had concerned Vauban and whose solution would
be reproduced la_ ter by Bélidor.) Bullet also considered methods
for determining a wooden beam's dimensions and provided a
series of rules for finding its depth in relation to the load. But he
concluded that due to the infinite qualitative differences among
types of wood, such rules could not be absolute." He then provided
detailed methods for determining exact quantities of material nec-
essary in each of the building trades: carpentry, masonry, plumb-
ing, glazing, locksmithing, paving, roofing, and so forth. Bullet
discussed legal problems, explained building regulations, and fin-
ished his book with an illustration of devis, that is, detailed spec-
ifications and cost estimates for one specific example.
Bullet's architectural íntentions were essentially identical to
Vauban's and Bélidor's concerns in military engineering. The im-
plications of this reduction of practice to a conceptual program
should be apparent. Architecture Pratique represented the first
attempt to teach methods leading to the establishment of precise
construction programs based on quantitative data, including costs,
general and particular specifications, and building systems.
In the area of civil engineering, H. Gautier in his Traité des
Ponts (1714) voiced similar interests. Precision in the design and
a comprehensive devis were considered extrernely important for
the successful construction of bridges.70 The reader may recall
how this concern in fact prompted the foundation of Perronét's
office." During the second half of the century, Perronet's own
projects. were considered exemplary for their exactness and for
taking luto account many and diverse factors.
During the Enlightenment, mathematics was seen only as a
practical tool in texts concerned with building techniques, and its
Surveying operations, from Guarini'S Architettura instrumental value in construction programs was recognized by
most French architects. The general interest in technical problems
and the quantitative methods needed to solve these problems
increased considerably throughout the eighteenth century. The

224 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 225 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy
works by Frezier, Patte, and Potain, and also D'Aviler's Cours which became increasingly effective instrumento of technical
d'Architecture (1696), Jacques-Francois Blondel's De La Distribution domination in architecture and engineering. Eventually, the ra-
des Maisons (1737), Jambert's Architecture Moderne (1764), and henal planning and programming of construction became the
another book of the same title attributed to Briseux (1728), are basis of building operations in the industrialized world. The cul-
only a few among the many treatises on civil architecture that mination of this process, however, Would only take place during
were concemed with the quality of building materials, foundations, the early nineteenth century when the science of measurement
specifications, building systems, or structural soundness and ef- and geometrical drawing, the two disciplines that could implement
ficiency.72 Many articles touching upon the building frades ap- the reduction of the reality of building practice to two dimensions,
peared in Diderot's Encyclopédie, and the Academy of Science had become sufficiently systématized.
continued a systematic study of the crafts that it had begun in
the late seventeenth century.
It should be noted that practical geometry and mathematics Stereotomy Stereotomy, the use of geometric projections in determining the
were not used in the san-ie way in systematic construction programo shape and dimensions of stone or wooden elements in arches,
outside France. Geometrical operations always retained some vaults, trusses, stairs, and domes, was specifically a French concern.
measure of symbolic power." New treatises on surveying and It was initially incorporated in Philibert de l'Orme's Architecture
mensuration, very similar in spirit and content to books of the (1567), the first original architectural treatise published in that
Baroque period, were published in Italy throughout the eighteenth country to show a Renaissance influence. De l'Orme devoted
century." And though G. A. Alberti dealt with more complex several chapters of his boolc to illustrate the use of horizontal and
problems in his Trattato della Misura delle Fabbriche (1757),'5 his vertical projections in determining in two dimensions the precise
lack of interest in the applicability of theory to the solution of configuration of 'complex parts of buildings. This method of si-
real technical problems was nevertheless conspicuous. In many multaneous projections was never used before the Renaissance.
of these books, the traditional connotations of geometry still ap- Dürer used similar techniques in his studie's on the human body
peared, often incoherently. G. F. Cristiani, for example, published in 1528 and in his research on conic sections in 1525.79 Generally,
a text on "the usefulness and delight" of models in military ar- however, stereotomy was not an effective technical method during
chitecture. After mentioning Bélidor, Galileo, Leibniz, Descartes, the sixteenth century. Of the problems studied by De l'Orme, for
and the virtues of geometrical calculations and physical experi- example, the solutions were so specific that it is impossible to
ments, Cristiani emphasized (as did Ricatti) the harmonic structure understand them at a merely conceptual level. The fundamental
of perception and the human body. Hence he opted for the "ne- dimension was still the Gothic craftsmen's experience. Without
cessity" of employing scale models in fortification." it theory was useless, and even with such experience, theory was
In England, William Halfpenny used geometrical projections practically irrelevant to technique. The plates illustrating the use
to determine the configuration of all sorts of arches and vaults of projections in De l'Orme's Architecture did not constitute a
in his Art of Sound Building (1725).77 He complained about the method; they did not derive from a general geometrical theory
constant mistakes incessantly committed in practice and provided capable of generalizing specific solutions of specific problems.
a careful explanation of brick construction. In The Modern Builder's Several works on stereotomy were written during the seven-
Assistant (1757), he included a catalog with a detailed description teenth century. In 1642, Mathurin Jousse published Le Secret de
of projects, but his cost estimates were very general, not unlike !'Architecture, in which he claimed that although he admired the
those produced by Du Cerceau in the sixteenth century.78 buildings of antiquity, many of them failed to fulfill one's ex-
During the second half of the eighteenth century more empirical pectations because they were built by craftsmen who ignored the
subjects, such as the application of appropriate methods of mea- necessary geometrical tracings for stonecutting.8° He was aware
surement and a more precise determination of the areas and vol- that neither Vitruvius nor Renaissance authors had written on
umes of geometry, began to be taught in the French technical the subject and believed that De l'Orme's two chapters were too
schools. This led to the production of eminently quantitative devis, complicated for craftsmen. His own work was therefore inten-

226 Geometry and Nurnber as Technical Instruments 227 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy
tionally simple, reducing to the minimum the elements of each The geometry implicit in vault construction and other stereotomic
problem and the lines of projection. But in his attempt to provide marvels constituted, like the mathematical order of a fugue, both
a strictly useful technical instrument for carpenters and stone- the structure of the work and the ultímate source of its meaning.
cutters, he produced, in fact, a work that was incapable of coming The description of geometrical projections in treatises was the
to terms with the real complexity of the problems. elucidation of an eminently symbolic (that is, poetic) operation.
In accordance with his interest in technical problems related The great exception to this rule appeared, perhaps not sur-
to construction, Jousse encouraged young architects to study prisingly, in the work so far anead of its time of G. Desargues.
arithmetic, geometry, dynamics, and statics. In his L'Art de la Stereotomy was one of the disciplines for which Iris universal
Charpenterie, he provided geometrical descriptions of all sorts of geometrical method would serve. as the foundation. He established
trusses, centering, and roofing and a complete catalog of all known the theoretical principies of his "universal manner" in the Brouil-
elements for wood construction. Although there were no explicit lon-Project, a small pamphlet published in 1640. This was followed
symbolic intentions in Jousse's use of practical geometry, he re- by a more extensive treatise on stonecutting published by Bosse
ferred to carpentry as the art of original architectural ornament; in 1643."
and aboye all, he believed that the exposition of the craftsman's While Derand's Architecture des Voútes was still being published
geometry was like the revelation of a transcendent secret: the in 1743 and 1755, Desargues's Brouillon-Project, containing the
essential modus operandi of architecture. These echoes of the late basic postulates of projective geometry, remained unknown until
medieval world were obviously in perfect accord with the im- the nineteenth century. It is clear that masons and architects could
plications of the Baroque geometrization of the cosmos. not comprehend Desargues's attempt to replace practice by an
The Jesuit Francois Derand published in 1643 L'Architecture des all-embracing general theory. In La Pratique du Trait . . . pour la
Voútes. Much more extensive, specialized, and ambitious than Coupe des Pierres, Desargues indicated that "the means to do
the works of his predecessors, this treatise was intended both for something" were an essential part of any art. Theory, in his opin-
architects and craftsmen. Derand maintained that to learn ster- ion, had to include an explanation of these technical means and
eotomy, practice was indispensable. It was not sufficient only to not only an elucidation of the art's objectives. These technical
read about it because in the mechanical arts, "practice is not means could be "exact, developed through reason," or imprecise,
invariably linked to the laws of rigorous geometry."" His book deriving from approximation and the intuition of craftsmen. De-
included tracings for all sorts of masonry works and their geometric sargues was the first to argue so strongly for the need to implement
projections. Derand used a more specific technical language than exact technical means.
previous authors. An understanding of his work demanded a He believed that in order to invent the rules of any art, one
knowledge of geometry, careful and systematic reading, and con- should know its "reasons," but it was not always necessary to
stant practice. The solutions of the problems were, nevertheless, be a craftsman. This assertion contrasts sharply with the com-
very similar to those proposed by De l'Orme, whose Architecture monplace acceptance of the role of practice as propounded by
Derand frequently cited. Jousse or Derand. Desargues recognized three aspects in any ac-
Dechales also included stereotomy in his Cursus seu Mundus tivity, all important, but ordered hierarchicaliy: first, the theory—
Mathematicus, as one more discipline subject to the transcendent a framework in which to invent and establish the rules of practice;
order of a universal geometry." A considerable section on this second, the rules themselves, derived directly from theory; and
science was an important part of Guarini's Architettura Civile and third, practice—the execution of these rules, somehow inferior,
was taken fundamentally from Derand's treatise. The symbolic obliged to follow strictly the prescriptions of theory.
concern underlying Guarini's interest in stereotomy is now evident. Desargues was conscious of the fact that no one before him
Also, Francois Blondel included problems of stereotomy among had reduced the art of stonecutting to a set of methodical and
. the "principal" and most clifficult in architecture." universal principies. He pointed out that other treatises had only
During the seventeenth century, there were no autonomous solved specific problems relating to the times in which they were
techniques daiming to derive their value from efficiency or ap- written. Alluding to Jousse, Desargues reminded his readers that
plying their specific parameters to decision making in architecture. not long ago each projection and tracing was "considered a secret

228 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 229 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy
Geometric projections applied to the stereotomic de-
scription of a vault, from F. Derand's L'Architecture
des Voütes (1643).

Stereotomic virtuosity in the vaulting of the oran-

gerie in the Palace of Versailles, designed by J. H.
Mansart (1681-1686).

Alsklant ant
04 '111;1

230 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments

231 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy

that had to be leamed by heart. ."85 He proposed instead a mensions of their supports were exaggerated, were unnecessarily
simple and unique method that could be used to solve any problem. expensive." With regard to construction, Frezier adopted De la
It sufficed to follow a set of step-by-step mies, regardless of the Hire's hypothesis, thereby showing that he understood how statics
operator's firsthand knowledge of the craft. Desargues thought could be applied to architecture and engineering. • He rejected
that the architect should provide the craftsmen with precise ster- seventeenth-century geometrical methods for detennining the di-
eotomic tracings to cut every piece of stone, just as he provided mensions of piers and emphasized the importance.of mechanics.
plans, sections, and elevations. Architects should never allow the as an example of a truly effective and indispensable theory of
masons to invent these tracings since they had nothing more to -architecture. The associations established by Frezier between a
go on than their own experience. theory conceived as ars fabrica ndi and the geometrical theories
During the last decade of the seventeenth century and the be- of statics underscore his comprehension of mechanics as the par-
ginning of the eighteenth century, there were some discussions adigmatic modern science. His interest in geometry arose from
about stereotomy in the academy." But generally speaking, the his perception of mechanics as an instrument capable of controlling
architects of the Enlightenment, in contrast to their Baroque pre- matter—not, as had been the case among his predecessors, from
decessors, were not interested in geometrical projections. The a belief in the immanent symbolic attributes of geometrical
only important work on stereotomy written during the eighteenth operations.
century was Amédée-Francois Frezier's La Théorie et la Pratique Frezier stressed that military engineers should be cognizant of
de la Coupe des Pierres et des Bois (1737). Frezier was a highly geometry, mechanics, and hydraulics when planning their attacks
regarded military engineer and in 1712 was made responsible for or building fortifications. Stereotomy was indispensable not only
the construction of several French fortifications in Europe. His for them but for architects as well. He criticized earlier treatises
was one of the textbooks recommended by D'Asfeld to the students for not being sufficiently methodical and, with the exception of
at Meziéres. Derand's book, for presenting the subject matter only to craftsmen.
Frezier wrote his book believing that theory was the "soul" of What was needed was a book for architect¿ and engineers who
both the arts and the sciences. His interest was to elucidate the already knew something about geometry. Significantly, Frezier
"geometrical reasons of tracings used in architecture" because had to conclude his first dissertation with the admission that the
this dealt with the most difficult part of practice, namely, the "natural geometry" of the craftsman was usually enough to solve
"exactness, solidity, and propriety" of all types of vaults." Three most problems of stone- or woodcutting. His theoretical tour de
preliminary dissertations preceded this voluminous work. In the force was therefore rendered ineffective by a traditional practice
first, Frezier proved the "usefulness of theory in the arts related that was for the most part still successful. Indeed, this was the
to architecture" by arguments very similar to those used by Bélidor paradox faced by most eighteenth-century theoreticians. Never-
in his Science. He emphasized the importance of theory as a tech- theless, Frezier believed in the importance of providing a method
nical instrument and its effectiveness in practice—something de- that would allow the architect to solve any stereotomic problem,
nied by most of his contemporaries. Frezier stressed that we should regardless of its complexity. This, once again, attests to the ar- -
not wait for practice to teach us and that reflection and theory chitect's interest in technological control, which orginally was
hastened the way to the solution of problems. His objective was motivated by the epistemological revolution, and which appeared
to provide a different route from that of other authors, who had in the sphere of theory long before its effective implementation
considered stereotomy from a standpoint "too c1ose" to practice. during the nineteenth century.
Unlike seventeenth-century architects, Frezier felt that he had Frezier's intention, therefore, was to postulate a general theory
to justify his interest in geometry, citing examples drawn from of stonecutting as an autonomous technique that could direct the
mechanics. Frezier claimed that before geometry and mechanics craftsman's work in the execution of any structural element of a
had been applied to architecture, the structural soundness of vaults building capable of being treated as an aggregate of smaller pieces.
was not assured; they lasted only a short time and had to be And its principies are necessarily derived from geometry, me-
demolished, were not pleasant to behold, or, because the di- chanics, and statics. Frezier's first volume was devoted to geo-

232 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 233 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy
metrical theory and discussed conic sections, intersections of solid
bodies, properties of all types of curves, projections on flat and
spheric surfaces of arches and vaults, and a method for finding
the voussoir's angles. The text, full of neologisms and technical
terms, often criticized the absence of principies in previous works
on the subject. It is important to note, however, that Frezier only
referred briefly to Bosse's La Pratique du Trait as "a totally different
system" that had been deriyed from Desargues's and that had
never become popidar."
In fact, two full volumes of Frezier's treatise were devoted to
practica) applications. But in spite of his intentions, his theory
was not truly systematic and universal; it never went beyond
Euclidean geometry and was therefore limited to specifics. Each
example ultimately depended on intuition and the particular
properties of the figures or bodies involved. The complexity of
the operations involved in treating these figures and bodies within
the framework of Euclideari geometry amounted to a dead end.
And because the exercises were hardly related to the much more
simple problems of conventional practice, his book was not used
by architects, engineers, or craftsmen. The editor of the 1760s
version of D'Aviler's popular Cours d'Architecture included a Small
section on stereotomy in which he criticized Desargues, "who
hid all that he wanted to teach," and Frezier, whose book he
found extremely complicated. He recommended instead Derand's
Architecture des Voíites because in stonecutting, "practice is pref-
erable to theory."9°
Frezier's book seemed to be addressed to some imaginary virtuosi
who might find pleasure in mathematical complexity. In any case,
it is clear from Frezier's interest in proportion and the dassical
orders, and from the polemic in which he supported Patte's crit-
icism of Soufflot's mathematical determinism, that he still per-
ceived mathemata not only as a source of stability or durability
but also, however ambiguously, as the ultimate origin of beauty.9'
It could be concluded, therefore, that with the exception of De-
sargues's work, the relation between the theory and practice of
stereotomy did not effectively change during the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. The problems of projection were indeed
solved in different ways by different authors, each of whom em-
ployed manifold graphic systems. But these techniques were not
capable of sufficient precision; and the reduction of three-
The uses of geometry, an allegory on the cover page dimensional reality to the plane was never really thorough enough
of Frezier's treatise on stereotomy (by courtesy of to provide an effective, rational control over stone- or woodcutting
Daidalos, Berlin).

234 Geometry and Number as Technical Instrumento

235 Fortification, Mensuration, and Stereotomy

4 Pi M

31=Tilialiaiti="1""- MEI

II y Y-.21
The reorganization of the heavens by Copernicus and Galileo
had to carry and the quantitative properties of the building ma-
brought about not only a transformation of Western man's in-
terials. The application of geometry to mechanics thus revealed
tellectual sensibility but also a dislocation of his place in relation
from the very beginning an intention of technical control. As the
to reality. The most fundamental presuppositions of mental space
world was transformed into res extensa (number and figure), man
were reversed. Simple events df everyday life, particularly motion,
discovered the power of his rational rnind to control and exploit
began to be conceived as much more complex phenomena. Robert
Boyle defined nature as "the inventory of bodies which constitute
During the seventeenth century, mechanics was essentially the
the world in their present state, considered as a principie by virtue
concem of philosophers, scientists, and geometricians, particularly
of which they are active or passive, according to the laws of
after the foundation of the scientific academies in the 1660s. In
movement prescribed by the Author of all things."' For Leibniz,
a historical introduction to a treatise on strength of materials
the world was also a Horologium Dei.' The degree to which me-
published in 1798, P. S. Girard attributed the first quantitative
chanics became the essential discipline for a knowledge of nature
experiments in this science to a Swede, P. Wurtzius. He said that
affected the necessity of divine intervention in epistemology. And
he had obtained this information from a letter that Wurtzius had
it was precisely in the field of mechanics—defined by Boyle as
addressed to Francois Blondel in 1657. Girard referred to a work
"the application of mathematics to produce or modify movement
by Blondel entitled Galilaeus Promotus and indicated that the
in the bodies"—that number conceived as a technical instrument
French architect had been the second to write on the subject after
merged with natural science, thereby producing the first func-
tionalization of reality, and endowing the human mirad with an
This interest on the part of the founder and first professor of
effective power to dominate matter.3
the Royal Academy of Architecture is in itself significant. Blondel's
Mechanics, as is well known, is comprised not only of dynamics
observations on Galileo's hypothesis appeared in the fourth of
but also (and of greater interest for architecture) statics: the analysis
his "principal" problems of architecture, which provided a geo-
of boches in a state of rest or equilibrium. Apart from the rare
metrical method for determining the dimensions of beams.4 In
speculations of Leonardo da Vinci about forces acting on structural
the same problem, however, he also discussed the errors of Pappus
members, Simon Stevin was the first to try to understand, geo-
on harmonic proportion. Blondel's geometrical tracing to determine
metrically, some basic problems of mechanical equilibrium. A
the dimensions of the piers and buttresses of an arch or vault
chapter on statics in his Oeuvres Mathématiques (1584) analyzes
was taken from Derand's Architecture des Voütes and, although
the forces acting upon a body on an inclined plane. Stevin declared
this tracing was concemed with the configuration of the arch in
that this science was incapable of considering such factors as
question, it was not based on a mechanical hypothesis.5 It should
friction or cohesion. The force needed to move a cart was obviously
be remembered that Blondel's geometry was still, fundamentally,
greater than that which resulted from a theoretical calculation.
a Baroque universal science.
But the discrepancy, according to Stevin, was not the fault of
In this respect, it is interesting to consider 11 Tempio Vaticano
science. Like Kepler, Stevin accepted the traditional distance be-
e sua Origine, a book published in 1694 by the successful architect
tween geometry and reality. His application of this science to the
Carlo Fontana.6 Fontana was convinced that the only way to
sublunar world was obviously an innovation, but his work was
ensure the stability of domes was to determine their sections by
still an elucidation of the geometrical behavior of reality. Stevin
means of complex and precise geometrical tracings. Discussing
did not believe that a connection between geometrical hypothesis
the structural problems of St. Peter's dome, Fontana superimposed
and the mutable world of reality was necessary; even less necessary
on the section his ideal geometrical tracing to "prove" the dome's
was a reduction of the latter to mathematical operations.
soundness. Similar tracings were also used for his designs of
Only Galileo formulated dearly the problems of statics and
doors and frontispieces. This geometry obeyed not the Logic of
strength of materials as part of the total geometrization of human
mechanics, but the orders of the architect's imagination, which
space: To determine, by means of a geometrical hypothesis, the
ensured the meaning of the work: its beauty and solidity. This
dimensions of structural elements in relation to the weights they
discovery of the geometry "implicit" in St. Peter's design still had

238 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments

239 Statics and Strength of Materials
the character of divine revelation; it endorsed the value of the
most important church of Catholicism, whose legendary origin
Fontana also disclosed.
Although much of the theory of statics had been developed by
scientists and geometricians in the seventeerith century,7 it was
not until the 1680s that there appeared the first true applications
of statics to architecture and engineering. I have mentioned the
attempts of Vauban and Bullet to determine the dimensions of
retaining walls, as well as De la'Hire's presentation of theSe prob-
lems in the discussions of the Academy of Architecture after 1688.
Bearing this in mind, it should be noted here that De la Hire was
the first in a long tradition of architect-geometricians who tried
to apply Varignon's general theory of the resolution of forces to
the fundamental problem of stability of arches and vaults.8 It was
De la Hire who actually postulated the first truly mechanical
hypothesis concerning this problem.
In contrast to prior works on mechanics and automata (for
example, De Caus's Raisons des Forces Mouvantes), De la Hire's
Traité de Mecanique (1695) praised the discoveries of Galileo and
avoided all allusions to the magical or occult qualities of mechanical
effects. De la Hire realized that physical reality did not behave
with all the rigor of geometry. Nonetheless; he emphasized that
all the arts needed the science of mechanics to assure their success.9
Concerning arches, he advocated a geometrical method for de-
termining the load that should be taken on by each voussóir in
order to fulfill the conditions of equilibrium, assuming no friction
between the surfaces of the pieces. This was obviously derived
The principie of the cantilever, from Galileo's Dis- from Varignon's solution to the problem of equilibrium in solid
corsi Intorno rs Due Nuove Scienze (1638). bodies through the resolution of vectors, independently of cohe-
sion or other externa' factors. De la Hire presented his hypothesis
to the architects of the academy in 1712, outlining a concise geo-
metrical method for quantifying the stress produced by the thrust
of an arch. Taking into account the height of the piers and the
radius, maximum height, and weight of the arch," these calcu-
lations would determine the necessary dimensions of the sup-
porting piers.
Although De la Hire believed that geometry was indispensable
for all sorts of operations in architecture, not even his position
was free from ambiguity. For example, he publicly recommended
Ouvrard's treatise on harmonic proportion and in 1702 presented
a paper to the Academy of Science in which he tried to prove
that many arches used intuitively by architects were in fact pa-

240 Geometry and Number as Technical lnstruments 241 Statics and Strength of Materials
.71* T.,. J. 72
• '• rabolas, more agreeable in their proportions than sections of cirdes
or ellipses." (Editing this paper, Fontenelle remarked how ge-
ometry, although in itself "boring and dry," had corrected an
"invention" whose only purpose was to please the eye.)
Similar ambiguities appeared in Pitot's paper Sur /a Force des
Cintres, which was presented to the Academy of Science in 1726.
Making use of data on the resistance of wood and Varignon's
lheory, Pitot found the corresponding stresses in the parts of a
wooden scaffold and was able to determine their thicknesses given
their angles. His intention was to quantify the "correct propor-
tions," reduce the number of members, and improve their con-
nections. And yet Pitot too believed that the geometry of statics
also produced a disposition that was sometimes more agreeable
to the sight."
H. Gautier, an "architect, engineer, and inspector" of the recently
formed Corps des Ponts et Chaussées, was the author of the first
specialized treatise on bridges written by a "professional." The
first part was traditional; it listed and compared famous old and
existing structures and the models proposed by Alberti or Palladio.
His advice was lenerally empirical. There was an explanation of
technical terms and of the regulations of the Corps des Ponts et
Chaussées, an example of devis, and the rules of Vauban for de-
Illustration of De la Hire's hypothesis applied to di- termining the dimensions of retaining walls.13 But in the disser-
verse problema in the design of arches, from F. Mili-
zia's Architettura Civile (1781).
tation on the piers, voussoirs, and thrusts of bridges added to the
second edition of his Traité (1727), he discussed problems of
statics and strength of materials." Familiar with recent contri-
butions in this field, Gautier tried to apply them to bridge con-
struction. He believed that the arts, particularly architecture, were
"founded on mechanics," which, being a part of mathematics,
was hable to rigorous demonstration. Regardless of its origin,
proportion was, in Gautier's opinion, the most difficult part of
architecture, on which a consensus was still lacking. Although
he recognized that mechanics was needed to establish definitive
rules of proportion in architecture, he openly rejected De la Hire's
hypothesis, considering it too complex and divorced from practice.
Instead, he applied the simple geometrical tracings of Derand
and Blondel to determine the dimensions of piers in bridges. He
also emphasized the need of quantitative experiments in strength
of materials, but was seemingly unable to distinguish between
geometrical methods and truly mechanical hypotheses. He ob-
viously considered the seventeenth-century tracings more practical
for craftsmen and, indeed, more in keeping with traditional

242 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments

243 Statics and Strength of Materials
Most French engineers and architects of the Enlightenment, the famous bridge at Neuilly. The project was in fact an engineering
however, did accept De la Hire's theory with a greater or lesser masterpiece. Nothing was left to chance; every building stage
awareness of the problems resulting from the distance between was carefully planned, including the specific quality of materials,
geometrical hypotheses and real phenomena. And De la Hire's special machinery, the dimensions of each detall, and even the
fundamental intention was in fact shared by all. Bélidor and Frezier number of workers to be em . ployed at each phase.
used his hypothesis in their texts on building and stereotomy, Perronet dearly attached great importance to observation and
while scientists like Parent and Couplet incorporated it in papers adopted the empirical method of natural science to engineering.
on the equilibrium of vaults during the first thirty years of the Therefore it is almost paradoxicaj that Perronet's general advice
century." to his students appears to be more 'conservative than that of his
The first half of the eighteenth century also witnessed the be- predecessors'. Following upon his comprehensive discussions, he
ginning of systematic experiments on the strength of materials. finally decided that his own experience was more valuable than
Following in the steps of Mariotte, who had reported some isolated the results of calculations. Theory, he wrote, is insufficient; a
tests in the previous century, Parent presented a paper to the successful practice is the surest guide.''
Academy of Science on the strength of wood in 1707; and in Perronet's Description des Projects was not an analytical treatise
1711 Reaumur read a piece on the resistance of steel wire." Bé- on bridge construction. It was essentially an atterapt to teach by
lidor's treatise was the first book on construction to include the examples, and in this it was not unlike the didactic methods used
quantitative results of experiments on the strength of the wood at the École des Ponts et Chaussées. The text was an amelgara of
normally used for beams. Inspired by the new empirical method the author's experiences and quantitative data organized system-
of Newton, Musschonbrek published in 1729 Physícae Experi- atically. It is perhaps signiflcant to note how limited Perronet's
mentales et Geometricae, which induded several machines of his contributions were to the Royal Academy of Science." For although
own invention for testing stresses in various meteríais, The text Perronet demonstrated a full understanding pf mechanical ef-
reveals that he was much more methodical and precise than his fects—such as the role of piers as buttresses, the advantages of
predecessors. Similarly, Buffon tested wooden beams of all sizes, redudng the mass of such piers to allow a freer flow of water
including full-scale specimens. According to Girard, Buffon was and save material, and the greater thrust of lower basket arches—
the first to consider all the important factors affecting the strength his well-known preference for this latter type of arch over the
of wood (for example, the way a tree had been felled or its humidity traditional semicircular one was justified only in terms of common
content). Such systematic observations took on a greater signif- sense." And while he acknowledged the results of experiments
icance for architecture and engineering during the second half of on the strength of stone, "such as those realized by Soufflot at
the century. Saillancourt," which suggested the possibility of considerably re-
Around 1750 the quantitative results of experiments seemed ducing the dimensions of the piers—traclitionally one fifth of the
to have taken priority over geometrical hyotheses in the minds span—Perronet did not provide geometrical methods or equations
of those architects and engineers who were concerned with struc- to apply in actuality the quantitative data derived from experiments
tural problems. The work of Jean-Rodolphe Perronet, founder of to structural design. On the contrary, he believed that his rules,
the École des Ponts et Chaussées is highly significant in this respect. based on his own experience, were far superior. Thus in spite of
His quantitative observations regarding the structural behavior "the great strength of the stone," he advised his students to con-
of bridges and his systematization of construction methods had tinue using simple arithmetic proportions to determine the di-
a great influence on his contemporaries and became absolutely mensions of all parts of a bridge—a method reminiscent of the
indispensable toward the end of the eighteenth century in cor- most traditional Renaissance rules of thumb."
recting the old theories on statics. His own bridge projects were Perronet stressed the importance of quantitative experiments
the first in which a consideration of the materials' mechanical in other academic papers." With regard to methods of laying á
behavior was attempted. In Description des Projects (1782), a foundation, he mentioned the experiments of Musschonbrek, Buf-
splendid collection documenting some of his works, he described fon, Parent, and Gautier, but finished by providing simple recipes
in great detall and with precise engravings the construction of in tercos of the duplication, triplication, or division of the diameter

244 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments 245 Statics and Strength of Materials
rI \ 1 •I

■1 1 tl • I 1. \ \ I )\ r M'A U 11.

One of many pistes showing the process of con-

Plan and elevation of Perronet's bridge at Neuilly, struction at Neuilly. In November 1768 the founda-
from Description des Projets.
tions and preliminary operations were evident. From
Description des Projets.

View of the scaffolding for one of the arches of the

bridge at Neuilly during 1770, from Description des
246 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments
of piles, according to their own weight and other dimensions of
the structure. Although his recommendations were linked to ex-
perimental observations, the quantitative results were not trans-
lated into mathematical analysis. Everyhing was summarized in
a conventional discourse in which the experimental results were
subsidiary to his own experience in building.

Tradition and The application of statics by French scientists, architects, and en-
Mechanics in gineers in the early eighteenth century did not go unnoticed by
Italian the rest of Europe. Particularly in Italy, there appeared original
Architecture in-terpretations that merit attention. In 1748 Giovanni Poleni pub-
lished his famous work in which he recapitulated the debate
concerning the structural problems of St. Peter's Basilica in the
Vatican." The dome had been deteriorating for some time, as
Fontana had already pointed out. But the cracks became more
dramatic after 1742, and many mathematicians, architects, and
engineers wrote papers in an attempt to diagnose and solve the
problem. Poleni, after providing a history of the church, then
unfolded his own ideas about mechanics.
He declared that the application of mechanics to architecture
was impossible without mathematics and that it présented the
greatest difficulty when focused on the building of arches and
domes. Mentioning the "geometrical methods" of Derand and
Blondel and the "occult geometrical rules" of Fontana, he dis-
missed their contributions "for not being adapted to the mechanical
properties of building materials."" Thus Poleni distinguished Be-
tween the traditional use of geometry as it appeared in seven-
teenth-century treatises and its potential as a technical instrument
in mechanical hypo theses. Also mentioned were the contributions C; N.11 I .
of De la Hire, Parent, and Couplet, as well as Gregory's analysis
of the catenary, which had been published in Britain in 1697. Fíe,
Gregory's work was based on Robert Hooke's discovery about
this curve's properties of ideal stability and additionally assumed Píate in Poleni's Memorie Istoriche illustratíng the ca-
tenary hypothesis.
a direct transmission of forces among frictionless voussoirs. The
shape of a freely suspended chain would then be the ideal con-
figuration for a masonry vault or arch, and Poleni superimposed
one on a section of St. Peter's dome, believing that because the
tracing fell within the mass of the structure, the dome's stability
was guaranteed."
Poleni described the structural problems of other well-known
domes before going on to discuss reports and analyses by various

248 Geometry and Number as Technical Instrumento Statics and Strength of Materials
stable buildings, the architect required much practice. Maratta
authors. Of particular interest are his deliberations concerning
replied that the study of particular cases was not sufficient since
the ideas of the mathematicians Le Seur, Jacquier, and Boscow-
this was useless when circumstances changed. Maratta stressed
itch." These authors had applied a geometrical hypothesis to the
the necessity of establishing universal mies that would guide the
problem of determining the lateral thrusts of the dome of St.
actions of young architects by teaching diem- how to measure the
Peter's Basilica, thereby obtaining a very high value, which, ac-
stresses in arches and vaults and the resistance of walls. He be-
cording to Poleni, was obviously false, Poleni believed that sirtce
lieved that such knowledge could only be gleaned from geometry
the dome had been created by Michelangelo without the aid of
- and was to be found in treatises on mensuration, strength of
mechanics or mathematics, then it should be possible to solve its
materials, and mechanics. Sellan tried to refute this argnment by
problems without these sciences." While Poleni explained that
emphasizing the virtues of the great monuments of the past, all
he was fond of mathematics and agreed with the anonymous
of which were created without the use of geometrical hypotheses.
Venetian philosopher who said that they could be useful to ar-
The discussion was inconclusive, but it was perhaps significant
chitecture, he did not think that mathematics should have priority
that in the end, Maratta also praised the artistic achievements of
in the architect's decisions: "Although excellent in themselves,"
the Renaissance and called for a new synthesis of the arta in the
they should not be abused in their application."
persons of universal men, equally able as painters, sculptors, and
Poleni criticized the solution proposed by the three mathe-
architects, •
maticians because it was excessively theoretical. He attributed the
Ermenegildo Pini explored the same issue in his Dell'Archifettura,
problems of the structure to "interna!" and "externa!" natural
Dialogi (1770), in which fictional students of mathematics discussed
causes. These were the aspects that always tended to undermine
the difficulties involved in applying geometrical theories to ar-
the solidity of buildings, and they did not result from errors in
chitecture and construction. The first student propounded the
design or a lack of structural analysis. Among the 'factors Poleni
need to know rules in order to determine thrusts and structural
cited were the quality of materials, their defective manufacturing
stresses (rules derived from "the universal mathematics of New-
or inappropriate use in construction, heat, humidity, the differences
ton," the theories of Leibniz, and the calculations of Bernoulli)."
in pressure caused by several forces acting simultaneously, wind,
But he admitted there were great difficulties involved in the ap-
thunder, and earthquakes. Polen! was also interested in experi-
plication of these rules to practice due to the irregularities of vaults
ments on strength of materials. He mentioned Musschonbrek's
and the diversity of forces acting upon them. A second student
machina divulsoria and reported the results of his own experiments
added that the greatest architects had never applied mechanics
on the resistance of steel. He referred to these results in his final
to their buildings. In his opinion, it was more important to have
recommendation: Use steel reinforcing rings to relieve the tensile
stresses on St. Peter's dome; this will help to avoid any further relevant knowledge of the quality of materials; algebraic equations
and the subtleties of theoretical mechanics and calculus were
deterioration.28 In the end, Poleni had greater confidence in his
own empirical observations than in any geometrical theory of unable to ensure the stability of buildings. His conclusion was,
statics. Wherever he referred to theories or even to his own quan- surprisingly, that architects should design simple buildings so that
titative results, his conclusion were modified by the experience they could be easily understood and analyzed by means of the
contained in traditional practice. geometrical rules of statics. Such buildings would be not only
structurally sound but also beautiful "according to the law of
As in the case of other technical subjects, the tension between
continuity in nature." Such an assertion, alluding to Newton's
a theory that could be transformed into an instrument for the
universal empiricism, obviously brings to mind the projects of
domination of the physical world and a practice still justified in
late Neoclassical architecture in France and clearly points at the
relation to a metaphysical framework was much more evident in
ambiguous role of geometry and number in eighteenth-century
eighteenth-century Italian texts. In his Dialoghi sopra le Tre Arti
architectural theory and design.
del Disegno, Giovani Bottari envisioned a debate between two
Francesco Ricatti wrote about "the science of proportions" in
knowledgeable personalities of the previous century: Pietro Bellori
his Dissertazione intorno l'Architettura Civile of 1761. As a liberal
and Carlo Maratta.29 Bellori affirmed that to design solid and

251 Statics and Strength of Materials

250 Geometry and Number as Technical lnstruments
art, architecture should, in his opinion, possess true and positive
there were limitations involved in the application of statics to
rules, capable of guaranteeing the solidity and stability of buildings
construction, and in the end, if he thought geometry and math-
without offending their proportions and beauty." Ricatti stressed
ematics were indispensable to architecture, it was because he also
that architects should use optics for their projections, geometry
recognized their importance as symbols. Milizia stressed that aboye
to combine in one structure arches of different dimensions, and
and beyond its technical applications, geometry was necessary
"music together with analysis" (!) to solve the problem of the
"to understand correctly the important doctrine of proportions."35
harmonic mean, thereby producing a stable and universal law.
Thus, like their predecessors, eighteenth-century architects held,
This same "confusion" appeared in Nicola Carletti's work. In- however incoherently, that geometry and numerical proportion
fluenced by Christian Wolff, Carletti postulated an architectural endorsed the relation between aesthetic values and solidity, sta-
theory more geometrico and devoted a chapter of his Istituzioni
bility, and durability.
d'Architettura Civile (1772) to the traditional notions about pro-
portion and the determination of the dimensions of piers "taking
into account" the strength of materials." After enumerating the
The Rigoristti: The most original Italian interpretation of this paradigmatic prob-
different types of columns, walls, and piers used in architecture,
Structural lem of Neodassical architecture is to be found among the Rigoristti,
he described his "experiences" with statics, mentioning the weight
Function as the disciples of Carlo Lodoli, the Venetian "Socrates of architec-
of materials and a rule for determining the thickness of walls.
Metaphor ture." Historians who have studied Lodoli's devastating criticism
But then Carletti immediately returned to the traditional notion
of Vitruvian authority and the classical orders have called him a
of the human body as a prototype of proportion, stating that this
true "modem." Recently, however, this perception has been qual-
"postulate" could be demonstrated through "experiments." The
ified.36 In many respects, Lodoli's understanding of architecture
ambiguity created by the simultaneous presence of a geometry
and history appears to be more profound than even that of most
with symbolic resonances and the mathematics of technology is
nineteenth- and twentieth-century theoreticians. This was prob-
even more evident in the final scholium, where Carletti (repeating
ably due to his friendship with Giambattista Vico, the exceptional
an assertion by Wolff) declares that if the mies of statics or ge-
Neapolitan philosopher whose work anticipated certain insights
ometry did not coincide with the "institutions of architecture,"
of contemporary phenomenological hermeneutics.
then experience should have priority over reason.
Lodoli's writings have not survived, and like Socrates's teach-
In his eclectic Principi di Architettura Civile (1781), Francesco
ings, his thought had to be set down by his students. In the first
Milizia maintained that proportions were of fundamental im-
chapter of the Elementi di Architettura Lodoliana (1786), the most
portance for architecture, but that no one had as yet found sat-
reliable of extant sources published after Lodoli's death, Andrea
isfying rules. Referring to previous opinion by Frezier and Patte,
Memmo felt the need to justify the importance of Lodoli's theory,
he remarked that architectural proportions were not "arithmetic,
reminding the reader of the frequent failure of buildings due to
geometric or harmonic," but were derived a posteriori from the
structural unsoundness—failure that involved economic catas-
observation of nature and were intimately related to the stability
trophe." A large part of this-unusual treatise consisted of chapters
and solidity that they provided.33 In the third part of his Principi,
on historical criticism in which Memmo discussed in the same
Milizia argued that architects had to know something of exper-
enlightened mood Greek and Roman architecture, the theories
imental physics and mathematics. It was essential for practice to
of Vitruvius, and Renaissance and modern authors. Memmo then
bear in mind the precepts of theory in order to "reflect, observe,
ventured a condusion supported by his historical research: Al-
confront, and even experiment," thereby establishing certain rules
though Vitruvius had defined architecture as a science, this art
and contributing to the progress of art.34 Milizia displayed a thor-
still lacked fixed and immutable principies. It was not even nec-
ough knowledge of the works of French architects and geome-
essary to discuss this point. It was sufficient to recognize the great
tricians and included in his book tables, rules, and experimental
diversity of existing ideas about the essence of architecture to be
results. He cited the works of Musschonbrek, Bélidor, De la Hire,
convinced that "we are still in darkness." And since the most
Frezier, and Camus, among others. However, he also thought
famous authors did not share one single dear idea, "we should
at least have the courage to doubt.' 38

252 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruntents

253 Statics and Strength of Materials
forget that the experiments on strength of materials and the ideas
The fundamental criticism by the Rigoristti of all previous the-
about the geometrical behavior of matter were not, for the Ri-
ories had already appeared in Francesco Algarotti's Saggio goristti, simple instruments of technology. On the contrary, these
sull'Architettura (1753)." The argument was based on the notion
concerns were integrated into their intérest in discovering the
that architecture should be consistent with the essence or nature phenomenic essence of building materiáls. The new architecture
of the materials used in building. Nothing could be more absurd was to be visibly true and was to represent the intrinsic properties
than to use a certain material to represent another. Algarotti af- of matter through the formal configuratiori of buildings. This is
firmed that falsehood was the greatest abuse of all. Architectural precisely the meaning of Lodoli's own work in San Francesco
forms should therefore be compatible with the individual qualities della Vigna; it is best illustrated by the famous windows with
of their materials, their rigidity, fietbility, or "resisting strengths." lintels shaped like catenary curves and by the "corollaries" that
The "original" mistake of classical architecture, unconditionally synthesized his teaching (which have been interpreted, paradox-
accepted by modem imitators, was in fact the transposition of ically, as an early formulation of nineteenth- and twentieth-century
primitive wooden forms into stone or marble. Memmo emphasized functionalism)." Even Lodoli's contemporaries, including Algar-
that this diversity in materials, regardless of their various specific otti, misinterpreted his thought as an absolute rejection of all
properties, made it impossible to establish definitive and absolute ornament in architecture."
rules of proportion." Memmo wrote, "the straight function and representation are
Memoro pointed out that only two Italian authors, Milizia and the two final scientific objectives of civil architecture."" These
Lamberti, had written about the problem of solidity and stability objectives he thought were equivalent: "Solidity, analogy and
of buildings." Lodoli, in his opinion, would have considered a commodity are the essential properties of representation.. Or-
knowledge of statics, strength of materials, and construction as nament is not essential," The new vision of history that the Ri-
essential for architecture. Vitruvius and other authors had written goristti shared with Vico enabled them to apprehend the synthetic
in the past de re aedificatoria, but had not thought to quantify the
and irreducible character of architectural value. In Vico's thought,
strength of materials or to calculate loads and stresses.42 After history was postulated as the true science of man, a "new science,"
demonstrating his familiarity with works on these subjects by the qualitatively different from natural science and capable of elu-
best-known French architects and geometricians, Memmo tells cidating the origins of humanity." The Vitruvian firmitas, com-
us that Lodoli himself had spent much time and effort in the moditas, and venustas could not be conceived as independent,
elaboration of tables that summarized the resulto of his own ex- reified abstractions. Making use of historical criticism, Memmo
periments on the strength of wood, stone, marble, and other could then question the traditional Vitruvian myths, but only to
materials. reveal the absolute primacy of manís original mythical structure.
Also, Memmo refuted the validity of harmonic proportion, crit- This phenomenological a priori, which embraced the idea of the
icized the writings of Vitruvius on this subject, and showed how "invariable body," had to be reflected in architecture in orden to
the Greeks themselves had not respected the original dimensions produce a truly meaningful human world. Meaning also became
of the orders. These dimensions, he claimed, did not derive from an explicit problem for the Rigoristti, as it was for the late-
a "beautiful nature," the human body, "which is unalterable," eighteenth-century French theoreticians. But Vico had emphasized
or the trees, as some others had suggested, but were the products that the humanity of man depended on his poetic being. Primitive
of custom and a blind belief in the authority of the. ancients. man first dwelled in the world by implementing his poetic powers;
Memmo concluded by stressing that Vitruvius and his followers he was initially a poet, not a scientist. And a fundamental form
had been incapable of establishing a correct theory of proportions of poesis was, originally, building.
because they had disregarded the differences among building Hence, Memmo argued that although architectural value should
materials, particularly in relation to their "greater or lesser internal derive from an appropriate use of materials, taking into consid-
cohesion."43 eration both their intrinsic properties or essences (precisely rep-
Unlike most French architects of the Enlightenment, Memmo
resen ted by mathematics and geometry) and the singular
was capable of questioning not only Vitruvianism but also the
myth of a transcendental nature. Nonetheless, we should not

255 Statics and Strength of Materials

254 Geometry and Number as Technical Instrumento
architectural program, the relations between form and matter had criticism remained misunderstood by practitioners who took it to
to be metaphóric and imaginative, not merely rational. This is far be simply a rejection of omament. His reconciliation of omament
indeed from nineteenth-century structural determinism or the re- and structure is indeed so advanced that it is still an adequate
ductionistic obsessions of functionalism. Function, for the Rigoristti, criticism of simplistic "postmodernism."
retained the ambiguous dual connotation of abstract mathematics Perhaps the only architect to understand fully the sense of
(number) and visible representation (quality). It could therefore Lodoli's theory was Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Recognizing the
be a symbol of human order. Mernmo himself wrote that rep- limitations of disegno once it involved the reduction of building
resentation was "the individual and total expression that resulted through the implementation of structural analysis and systema-
when matter had been disposed with geometrical-arithmetical- tization, Piranesi became aware of the increasing meaninglessness
optical reason;" this was done in order to ful fill a given architectural of conventional architectural practice. Piranesi's architecture, for
obj ective. the first time in history, is fully embodied in his drawings and
It should be remembered that ornament had never been per- "visions" (and not in his very limited practice). His depictions of
ceived as superfluous by Renaissance or Baroque architects." Re- ruins and of a mythical Roman past are despera te attempts to
gardless of theoretical discussions about the speciflcity of structure reveal the meaning of an architecture that could no longer be
and ornament, the latter was always perceived as an integral part built. This concern with meaning is, of course, parallel to that
of .a building's meaning. The problem of reconciling disjointed already examined in connection with late-eighteenth-century
structure and ornament became explica after the ePistemological French architects, resulting in theoretical projects attempting to
transformation of the late seventeenth century and was reflected recover the meaning in the world. Piranesi's passionate interest
in Perrault's work, the advent of Rococo, and by the autonomy in construction and his preference for the Roman "builders" over
of the technical dimension. Lodoli's attempt to reconcile ornament the Greek "designers" is, therefore, coherent with his other con-
and structure in his "corollary" was already beyond Alberti's initial cems.- The Romans seemed to understand the poetic properties
distinction, which had obviously relied on the traditional belief of stone, instead of merely translating, like the Greeks, the ideal-
in the absolute value of the dassical orders. ized forms of wooden temples. Piranesi believed that Roman
Inspired by Vico's understanding of history as the archetypal architecture, deriving from the Egyptian and the Etruscan, was
human science, Lodoli could produce his early criticism of Vitru- closer to mythical building, in the sense of the Rigoristti. But it
vian theory, while simultaneously postulating the necessity of a was not enough to reproduce Roman buildings. Piranesi's "Ro-
symbolic intentionality in architecture. Perceiving the meaning man" architecture was immense and overwhelming, of ten buried,
of architecture as primaeval ritual büilding, a privileged forra of mysterious, and prone to decay. Meaning could not be attained
reconciliation between man and external reality, he rejected the through conventional dassical buildings or the implementation
use of the classical orders because they were unsuited to masonry of a geometry that imitated nature; the drawing or engraving was
construction. Architecture as building had to respond to the poetic the embodiment of the symbolic intention. Geometry or conven-
potential of the materials. This amounted to a rejection of a rational tional forms would obviously be devalued if the represented
theory of architecture based on the models of natural science and buildings were placed in the context of the industrial world, in
mathematical logic, such as was prevalent in Europe during the a city that denied the symbolic, intersubjective dimension of
eighteenth century. Like Vico, Lodoli rejected rational reductionism architecture.
and put forward an early form of hermeneutic criticism as the In the famous Carceri etchings, Piranesi tried to understand the
most appropriate- method for architectural theory. He could thus phenomenic essences of stone and wood architecture. This es-
understand what Renaissance architecture had "lost" through the sential architecture occurs in a space that is already beyond per-
inception of theory and the division between design and building. spective reductionism. Piranesi dominated the methods of
The architect's fundamental role was to make poetry, not designs. perspective representation and the scena per angolo of the Galli-
Lodoli's theory was obviously overwhelmed by the new processes Bibienas. But his Carceri etchings are not illusionistic in a Baroque
of production after the Industrial Revolution, and his profound sense. He was not interested in producing the image of a building

• 256 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments

257 Statics and Strength of Materials
whose reality would be realized beyond the drawing itself. If the
city had become a prosaic stage in perspective, and perspective
was identified with reality, he used geometrical methods to create
an intentionally ambiguous reality, an architecture where man
would be confronted with the absurdity of his own powérs of
abstraction. His Carceri are an anticipation of cubism and sur-
realism; through the appearance of perspective they deny per-
spective reductionism and confirm the primacy of embodied
perception. But all this is achieved not in the usual way, through
a three-dimensional building, but through the reality of the draw-
ing itself. The drawing is no longer the symbol of an intention
that would be fulfilled in the surreality of the building, as in
Baroque architecture; but the drawing itself becomes an archi-
tecture of geometrical essences, consciously avoiding the external
world where mathematics was being transformed into a tool of Voiii(iir r..,,I x.71 r.1 r ,p... . k...0 - ter 1 .,i't KJASJI(Íiiillit 1
technology. ill''
.; kl Fa fii 4
ii il ., t

Soufflot, Patte, The most significant discussion conceming the application of statics
and the Piers of to a building project occurred in Paris between Jacques-Germain
Ste.-Geneviéve Soufflot and Pierre Patte during the second half of the eighteenth
century. The debate concemed the dimensions of the piers sup-
porting Ste.-Geneviéve's dome and clearly reveals the tensions
and ambiguities that marked the architecture of the Enlightenment.
Belief in the empirical method as the only access to truth en-
couraged the accumulation of a sufficient quantity of data even-
tually to transform the geometrical theories of statics into an
effective structural analysis. Yet this same empiricism was alsó
responsible for those architectural positions that appear traditional
in comparison to the intentions expressed in theoretical and sci-
entific texts during the first half of the eighteenth century.
I have shown how Patte, by adopting an empirical method in
relation to the problem of the classical orders and their proportions, •
rejected the relativism of values attributed to Perrault's theory.
In 1770 he published a Mémoire sur la Construction de la Coupole J. G. Soufflot's Ste.-Geneviéve. Schematic plan and
elevation showing the large masa of the dome and
Projectée de . . Sainte-Genevihve in which he argued that the di- drum in relation to the rest of the building, from
mensions proposed by Soufflot for the piers were not adequate Quatremére de Quincy's Histoire de la Vie el des
Ouvrages (1830).
to support the great weight of the dome." Clearly, both architects
were very interested in technical problems. Soufflot kept up with
advances in geology and with experimental physics and chemistry
and was himself involved in industry. And Patte believed that
"the most important aspects of architecture (aside from the classical

259 Statics and Strength of Materials

258 Geometry and Nuntber as Technical lnstruments
orders) were technical problems of construction such as deter-
mining cubic volumes, cost estimates and specifications, and the
building of sound foundations or entablatures reinforced with
iron rods.""
Both men were aware of their predecessors' work in the field
of statics and strength of materials. Patte's Mémoires mention
Bullet, Frezier, De la Hire, and Bélidor, and Patte was actually
the author of the two Last volumes of J. F. Blondel's Cours, which
dealt with technical problems." The proportions he recommended
for the classical orders were to be derived not from optical con-
siderations, but from a determirtation of the loads they had to
support.52 Like Soufflot, he admired the lightness of Gothic struc-
tures," and thus praised the synthesis of that quality with the
nobility of trabeated classical architecture that characterized Ste.-
Geneviéve and Contant's project for La Madelaine." The aesthetic
norrns of both architects weré ultimately determined by a belief
in an intersubjective taste and the power of numerical proportion
to ensure positive beauty.
The differences between Patte and Soufflot should, therefore,
be examined carefully. It has been pointed out that Patte rep-
resented a traditional and empirical approach to the problem of
statics, while Soufflot and his supporters (Perro'net, Rondelet,
Bossut, and Gauthey) tried to implement a true theory of structures
based on experiment and calculation. Although this view is not
altogether false, it should be qualified. In his Mémoire, Patte in-
voked the aid of mathematics and mechanics, which in his opinion Comparison of the dimensions of the piers support-
were indispensable to the progrese of science. But after citing the ing large domed structures in Europe with those of
Ste.-Geneviéve, after Patte's Mémoire (1770).
works of Parent, Couplet, and De la Hire, he decided that the
strictly geometrical rules proposed by Carlo Fontana in his Tempio
Vaticano (1694) were the best means for determining the pro-
portions of domes. In fact, what Patte could not accept was Souf-
flot's belief in the absolute infallibility of mathematical formulas
and quantitative data derived from tests on the resistance of build-
ing materials to fracture. Instead, Patte thought that design de-
cisions should correspond to the experience of everyday practice.
He compared the dimensions proposed by Soufflot with those
used under similar conditions by the great architects of the past:
for St. Peter at the Vatican, St. Paul in London, and the churches
of La Sorbonne, Les Invalides and Val-de-Grace in Paris. From
this he concluded that the piers of Ste.-Geneviéve were too slender
and, if built as designed, would fail due to the load of the dome.
Patte might be called traditional because of his adoption of
Fontana's simple geometrical rules, which lacked a mechanical

260 Geometry and Number as Technical Insfruments 261 Statics and Strength of Materials
or physical foundation and whose validity, he believed, was en-
dorsed by the survival of ancient masterworks. On the other minimally to the advancement of construction. This state of affairs
hand, Patte was conscious of the limitations on the applicability had precipitated, in Patte's opinion, "the invention of principies
of mathematics and geometry to physical problems—limitations and hypotheses" not in accordance with the facts: "In a word,
that Soufflot tended to overlook. In contrast with the ideas of • only the reunion of practice and theory can allow for a profound
Frezier or Bélidor, Patte emphasized the importance of practice treatment of the subjects concerning construction.""
in solving problems of structural mechanics. In volume six of J. F. The synthesis of theory and practice was obviously not eq.uiv-
Blondel's Cours, Patte affirmed that practice had always preceded alent to a simple rejection of statics by a conservative practitioner.
theory and that the art of construction had in fact made great Patte was familiar with the empirical methods of science and
progress before the intervention of theory; admirable buildings recognized their potential to provide fixed quantitative results
had been constructed through simple routines and experience, through experimentation. In his Métnoires, he cited Buffon's tests
not only during "centuries of ignorante" but also in his own timé, on the resistance of steel," and in the Cours, he emphasized that
when craftsmen executed difficult works based only on compar- the precise knowledge of the loads that different types of stones
isons with similar buildings of the past.55 could support was very useful." He also complained that architects
Unlike many of his contemporaries, who were obsessed with often determined the dimensions of their buildings only through
the patential of structural analysis, Patte was not surpriscd by approximation and not through the application of the laws of
the success of traditional buildings, which had been erected with- equilibrium.62 He distinguished between De la Hire's mechanical
out the aid of mechanical theories. Construction, after all, was hypothesis about the thrust of vaults (which he praised) and
simply the art of elevating bodies over other bodies, fashioning seventeenth-century rules of a merely geometrical character. In
their verticality and position by means of diverse combinations fact, he believed that De la Hire and Frezier represented the
and relations based on a small number of rules of statics—rules culmination of the possible applications of mathematics to con-
that were part of everyday experience and thus an extension of struction: "The limits of this art seem to have been fixed because
common sense. For example, the weak must be supported by the educated people are now capable of appreciating and calculating
strong, and a slope is essential for the stability of piled objects. in advance that which can or cannot be executed; there are no
Deceptively simple, such knowledge had to be gleaned from ex- more enigmas in this respect but for the ignorant.""
perience and practice. Only in his way could the architect deter- It is likely, then, that Patte's criticism of the project for Ste.-
mine the appropriate dimensions of his structures without Geneviéve was motivated by conflicting considerations, which
endangering their stability while also avoiding a wasteful use of were reconciled only in the eighteenth century. On the one hand,
materials." guided by the strict rationality of empirical science, Patte revealed
The great success of historical monuments demonstrated, ac- the distance that still existed between the geometrical theories of
cording to Patte, that the rules established through routine and statics and the real problems of practice. On the other hand, he
practice should not be ignored. He did not object to architects' retained a traditional understanding of architectural value, which
and geometricians' recent applications of a mechanical theory to was legitimized by the metaphysical dimension implicit in his
construction since, he felt, this amounted to substituting routine empirical method. Thus he believed, like Soufflot, that the same
with fixed principies founded on the development of the "eternal mathematical rules provided for stability and beauty. But these
laws of weight and equilibrium."" He believed that the discovery rules were derived, in Patte's case, from both empirical observation
of these absolute geometrical laws was important, but he stressed and historical precedents, that is, from the totality of the architect's
that such laws should always be able to take into account the personal experience, which he felt had priority over ideal cal-
real problems of practice. Scientists often encountered insur- culations as the origin of meaningful design.
mountable obstacles when dealing only with simple problems of The polemic continued for thirty years. In time the piers of
the thrust of vaults, and due to their lack of practical knowledge, Ste.-Geneviéve failed due to the normal deficiencies of building
for which there was no substitute," they could only contribute procedures, which Soufflot had disregarded in basing his cal-
culations only on the experimental resistance of the stone. The

262 Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments

263 Sta tics and Strength of Maferials
alarming cracks in the piers kept the discussion alive long after After 1770, however, several scientists and engineers--for ex-
Soufflot's death, and in 1798 Patte was still writing critical mémoires ample, Prony and Carnot, future professors at the École Poly-
on the subject." technique, and Bossut and Coulomb, from the École du Génie—
Emiland Gauthey, a brilliant architect et ingénieur des ponts et began to perceive the need to revise the old theories of statics.69
chaussées, took it upon himself to defend Soufflot. His name has The eighteenth century had produced two types of scientists:
been mentioned as the author of a text incorporating Laugier's those who, like Musschonbrek and Buffon, were mainly interested
theory and as the inventor of a machine to test the strength of in experimental physics, and others, like Euler, whose interest in
stone. In 1771 he published a paper accusing Patte of having geometry and applied mechanics was frequently rnotivated by
mistakenly used De la Hire's hypothesis of frictionless voussoirs hidden metaphysical concems, so that their scientific involvement
in his calculations while ignoring the adhesive force of mortar.65 was merely to demonstrate the power of mathematics. In spite
Patte admitted in one of his Letters that some of his calculations of architects' and engineers' wish to join theory and practice in
were indeed based on the theory that Soufflot had used, but that technical problems, the definitive mathematization of the principal
his own results were always tested by practice and historical factors of physical reality, the mathematization of sufficient pre-
precedents.66 Gauthey criticized Patte's reverence for old mon- cision to provide analytical solutions of structural problems, did
uments, bis approval of Frezier's theory, and especially his adop- not come about until 1773, when Charles-Auguste Coulomb pre-
tion of Fontana's prínciples. In the end, Gauthey also applied De sented to the Royal Academy of Scien.ce his paper "On the Ap-
la Hire's hypothesis to the problem, but his conclusion was just plication of the Rules of Maximums and Minimums to Some
the opposite of Patte's; in his opinion, the piers projected by Problems of Statics Relative to Architecture."7°
Soufflot could support an even larger and heavier dome b" Following a successful career as a military engineer, Coulomb
Gauthey shared Soufflot's faith in the possibility of applying studied at Meziéres and then turned to science. He proposed a
geometrical hypotheses to the resolution of practical problems of method of algebraic analysis that allowed for the consideration
construction. It is perhaps significant that Charles-Francois Viel, of the effects of friction and cohesion in structural problems, .the
an early-nineteenth-century architect and critic (of whom more two fundamental aspects that had either been ignored in previous
will be said Tater) blamed Gauthey and Bossut for causing Soufflot theories or merely observed experimentally. Coulomb was the
to abandon the rules of traditional building, which were still ob- first to propose a truly scientific method for solving structural
served by most of his contemporaries. Such disregard had brought problems, effectively taking into account essential practical re-
about, in Viel's opinion, ominous consequences for architecture quirements. In the first part of his work, he provided a full dis-
as a whole." cussion of the original problem of Gallean mechanics: the forces
Throughout the eighteenth century, architects, engineers, and acting upon a typical cross section of a cantilever beam. In the
geometricans, impatient to see Galileo's dream come true, applied second part, he examined the two most popular structural problems
the theory of statics to certain specific structural problems. Some, of the eighteenth century. Unhappy with the theories about re-
like Patte, were more cautious and recognized the limitations of taining walls that appeared in books by Bullet and Bélidor, and
such applications vis-á-vis traditional building methods. But while which were based on a strictly geometrical conception of statics,
they shared the same curiosity and passion for technical problems, Coulomb was finally in a position to reduce the physical properties
their enthusiasm was modulated by the implications of the em- of the retained earth and of the wall's masonry to the conceptual
pirical method. Furthermore, the residual symbolic character of level of mathematics. His equation for the design of retaining
numbers and geometric figures impeded the application of infin- walls is still useful today.
itesimal calculus to the realm of human action. The survival of With regard to the problem of stability of anches and vaults,
Euclidean geometry constituted the most fundamental obstacle Coulomb overcame the difficulties that had impeded the effective
to the establishment of a universal theory; its unchallenged pres- application of De la Hire's theory to practice. His method of
ence as the only form of geometrical science served to stall the analysis took in the quantitative values of friction and cohesion
final reduction of building operations into a generalized tech- as well as the fact that fracture did not always occur at the crown.
nological process until the end of the century.

264 265 Statics and Strength of Materials

Geometry and Number as Technical Instruments
As Poncelet wrote in 1852, "Conceming the equilibrium of arches,
before Coulomb, one possessed only mathematical considerations substitution of mathematical rules for the experience derived from
or very imperfect empirical rules based on limited hypotheses, building practice. Building practice could now be effectively con-
the majority lacking that character of precision and certainty that trolled and dominated by "theory." The Institut National, founded
alone can recommend them to the confidence of enlightened after the Revolution, "solemnly" adopted the conclusions of Gir-
engineers."" ard's work in a report signed by Coulomb and Prony.
Coulomb's paper was not presented in a way that allowed for
an easy application of his discoveries to architectural and engi-
neering practice. This would still take a few decades. Nonetheless,
it is significant that in the first history of statics ever written, an
introductory chapter to P. S. Girard's Traité Analytique de la Re-
sistance des Solides (1798), Coulomb's theory was referred to as
the culmination of a development that had started with Galileo."
Girard thought that Coulomb's contributions constituted a true
fil d'Ariadne, guiding practitioners through the labyrinth to truth.
Girard used Coulomb's discoveries as the premise of his own
wórk, producing the first truly analytic treatise on the science of
strength of materials as we know it.
Girard explained that although motion in the theory of statics
could be conceived in terms of absolutely rigid levers, this sup-
position was inadmissible when statics was applied to the cal-
culation of real machines or construction. Nature had not created
substances whose parts might not be severed. There were, there-
fore, two types of equilibrium: one is between two opposing forces
in balance (for example, a lever), the other is between a certain
function of these forces and the interna' cohesion of the constituent
parts. The conditions of the first kind of equilibrium could be
determined rigorously, but those of the second only approxi-
mately." Girard quoted d'Alembert's remark that experience
should be used not only to prove a theoretical insight but to
provide new truths that theory alone would be incapable of
Girard's work represented the first successful integration of
experimental observations on the strength of materials into the
mathematical structure of theory. Experimental data, which nor-
mally referred to fracture loads, had been considered in a more
or less arbitrary fashion and never became, during the eighteenth
century, a true vehicle for reconciling geometrical hypotheses
with empirical reality. In Girard's Traité, quantitative observations
became mathematical coefficients. His theory is truly analytical,
avoiding the use of Euclidean geometry. Finally, architectural
reality could be truly functionalized, allowing for an effective

266 Geometry and Number as Technical Instrumento

267 Statics and Strength of Materials
Voltaire wrote in his Eléments de la Philosophie de Newton (1738) logically. Laplace described the character of objective reason like
that the whole philosophy of Newton leads of necessity to the this: The present state of the universe should be conceived as the
knowledge of a Supreme Being who had created everything and effect of its previous state and as the cause of its future one. An
arranged all the universe in accordance to His own free will: "If intelligence capable of knowing, at a certain instant, all the forces
matter gravitates . . . it received its gravitation from God." This animating nature and the respective positions of beings, and als.o
cosmology provided the backdrop for the intellectual accomplish- able to subject these data to mathematical analysis, would be
ments of the Enlightenment. The achievements of absolute reason capable of incorporating in one formula the motions of the largest
were always endorsed by a series of deeply rooted metaphysical bodies and the lightest atoms. Laplace emphasized that nothing
assumptions. Geometry, the science of the immutable par excel- would be uncertain for such an intelligence; it would be powerful
lence, still maintained its intimate and inveterate relation with enough to know, and thus be in a position to control, past and
the world of embodied perception, retaining its potential as a
source of symbols. But Voltaire was mistaken in thinking that Laplace thus formulated the basic principies of positivism—
Newtonian metaphysics could arrest the atheism that had begun the philosophy that lay behind the noisy explosion of technology
to dominate epistemology. During the last two decades of the and industrialization during the nineteenth century. Positivism
century, the poetic and metaphorical representations of reality created the illusion of the infinite capacity of human reason to
were rejected in favor of the successful interpretations of logical control, dominate, and put to work the forces of nature that had
reason. Scientists like Lagrange and Laplace began to offer natural so far intimidated man. Thus inspired, man could think (and
explanations for the apparent irregularities observed in physical perhaps still does) that there would come a day when nothing
phenomena, particularly in astronomy, showing how they were in his life or his world would remain hidden to reason. To the
pan of larger regular systems that had not been adequately under- degree that the Huid, mutable, and necessarily ambiguous reality
stood. It became evident that the totality of the universe, including of everyday life was reduced to the mathematical clarity of the
ideal realm, values were also divorced from the Lebenswelt.
the sublunar world, behaved more in accordance with perfect
mathematical laws than had so far been imagined. Thus if every- Laplace believed that human knowledge should emulate the
thing could be explained by means of mathematical equations model of mathematical astronomy, where discoveries in the fields
accessible to the human mind, the notion of God becomes of mechanics and geometry had allowed for an understanding of
"the past and future states of the system of the world" through
The epistemological revolution ushered in by Galileo and Des- analytical formulas. This regularity was present in all phenomena,
cartes was irreversible, and reason effectively became the master enabling human intelligence to deduce the general laws that gov-
of human destiny, disregarding concerns beyond its control. La- em them and even to predict such phenomena.2 Laplace reminded
place wrote in his Essai Philosophique sur les Probabilités (1814) his readers that not so long ago extraordinary phenomena such
that all events, including those so small that they did not seem as a violent storm, a drought, a solar eclipse, or a comet were
to be subject to the great laws of nature, depended upon these considered signs of divine anger. But today man no longer invoked
laws as much as the sun's revolutions. Only a lack of knowledge the heavens, having realized, through observation, that prayer
was useless.3
about their relation to the "total system of the universe" made
them seem to depend on final causes or -chance. Laplace was The criticism of Newton's metaphysics in Laplace's Mécanique
Celeste is highly significant. Here astronomy was finally purified
certain that these "imaginary causes," which were nothing but
the expressions of human ignorance, would recede and eventually of traditional mythical connotations. Newton had written (ac-
disappear completely under the light of a "positive philosophy.'" cording to Laplace) that the regularity of the motion of planets
Flence the mission of the philosopher was to discover the math- and satellites did not have mechanical causes, but that this "ad-
ematical laws that governed all phenomena and their possible mirable concert" was the work of an intelligent and powerful
causal interrelations. The cosmos was losing its mystery, for noth- being. To this Laplace responded with a rhetorical question: Could
ing was bound to remain enigmatic when it could be scrutinized it not be possible that this disposition of the planets was itself

273 Positivism, Descriptive Geometry, and Scientific Building

272 Geometry, Number, and Technology
an effect of the law of motion, and that Newton's "Supreme
of mathematical thinking, the problem of transition between the
Intelligente" had been replaced by a more general phenomenon'M
infinitely large and the infinitely small (one identical abstract
After reading Mécanique Celeste, Napoleon I allegedly asked La-
number), appeared as an unsolvable dilernma, irreconcilable with
place why he had not mentioned God in his work about the
the pristine notion of a transcendent and. static infinity. In fact,
universe. To which the author is supposed to have replied: "Be-
most eighteenth-century mathematicians decided to return to more
cause I have no need of such a hypothesis."
simple notions of arithmetic and algebra.6 D'Alembert, for example,
This new epistemological framework also brought about the
introduced the idea of "limit," Infinity in calculus thus became
unconditional acceptance of relativism. The fundamental paradox
the limit of the finite: the term toward which it tends without
of the modern world is derived from a simultaneous belief in
ever arriving. In 1772 Lagrange insisted that the new methods
reason (with its infinite capacity to discover absolutely certain
of calculus based on functions could be simplified, and in 1797
mathematical truths) and the belief in the radical subjectivity of
he published a work containing the principies of differential cal-
each human being, condemned to his own partial perspective of
culus that were viewed "apart from any consideration of the
the world (providing only a limited access to "objective" reality).
infinitely small, of evanescent elements, limits or fluxions;" in
This characteristic ambiguity of modern Western culture became
short, they had been reduced to the algebraic analysis of finite
critical when scientists and philosophers of the early nineteenth
quantities.7 That same year Lazare Carnot published his Réflexions
century declared that all intellectual operations dutside mathe-
sur la Métaphysique du Calcul Infinitesimal, demonstrating that
matical reason were illegitimate. The necessary mythical dimen-
infinitesimal calculus did not need to prove its own truth, that
sion, the sphere of dreams, poetry, and imagination, which had
allowed for the reconciliation of man with the world, was elim- its real and only value was to be an efficient tool for the solving
inated from scientific thought. Truth and knowing were finafiy of technical problems. That a serious scientist would write a book
severed, with the former assuming priority over the latter. The on this topic so late in the century is in itself significant. For it
traditional primacy of an intersubjective world given with meaning was only at around this time that scientific research became truly
to perception was rejected. And the individual searching for ori- autonomous from philosophical speculation, transforming itself
entaron in order to make an existential decision was thereby into a specialized compartment of knowledge, immune to ethical,
aesthetic, or metaphysical controversy. At this point, man's tech-
condemned to rely solely on formal logic.
Long before Einstein's theory of relativity, the absolute time nical actions were divorced from human values, becoming a blind
and space of Newton was questioned by Laplace: "A body appears technological intentionality determined by abstract, utopian
to us to be in motion when it changes its situation relative to a
system of bodies which we suppose at rest; but as all bodies, Hence calculus could now be effectively applied to practice in
any discipline. Laplace's Mécanique Celeste represented the first
even those which seem to be in a state of the most absolute rest,
successful application of this science to the "system of the world,"
may be in motion, we conceive a space, boundless, immovable
and penetrable to matter: It is to the parts of this real or ideal depicting a universe that was, for the first time, no longer a hi-
space that we by imagination refer the situation of bodies."5 Later erarchiéal cosmos. The first analytical mechanics of the sublunar
world was postulated by Lagrange in his Mécanique Analytique
Auguste Comte would assert that there was nothing good and
nothing bad, absolutely speaking: "Everything is relative, and (1788). The difference between his work and previous treatises
on mechanics (like De la Hire's) was that he intended to reduce
this is the only absolute statement."
At this point, it is important to remember that the concept of the theory of this science and the art of solving its specific problems
infinity in calculus, in spite of Fontenelle's commentary on Leib- to general formulas, whose simple development would provide
niz's discovery did not become during the eighteenth century "a all the necessary equations for the solution of each particular
number like any other." Geometrical infinity could never avoid problem. Lagrange synthesized under a single premise the known
a certain "metaphysical contamination" during the Enlightenment. mechanical principies, while increasing their precision and appli-
As long as philosophical speculation remained an integral part cability. His work was the first coherent reduction of mechanics
to pure algebraic analysis, avoiding the use of geometrical figures.

274 Geometry, Number, and Technology

275 Positivism, Descriptive Geometry, and Scientific Building
Lagrange stressed that only algebraic operations were needed in itivistic program effected a clear division of knowledge. Each par-
physics and discarded "constructions or geometrical reasonings."8 ticular discipline now possessed its own autonornous históry, apart
The reduction of phenomena to mathematical laws was to be- from a world view; each was seen as an accumulation of positive
come the obsession of nineteenth-century thought. The physical experience, as a linear progression that exduded "failures" or
and. human sciences had to be reduced to a small number of "irrelevant speculations." This Mode' hada profound impact upon
truths that, although obtained initially through observation, could all historical disciplines of the nineteenth century. Such a con-
be combined and handled exclusively through reason.9 The in- ception of history, still popular today, creates many inisunder-
herently problematical model of an atheistic Newtonianism, that standings and reinforces the illusion that meaningful intellectual
is, mathemadcal astronomy and mechanics, thus dictated the achievement necessarily has to occur within specialized com-
character of positivistic thought, providing the epistemological partments of knowledge.
framework for the new specialized nineteenth-century sciences. According to Saint-Simon, the aristocracy of the nineteenth
Or as Auguste Comte put it: Astronomy had preceded sociology century was to be composed of specialized scientists and tech-
as the cause of the great intellectual revolutions of hurrianity.1° nicians; applied science would determine the future of hurnanity."
In the preface of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason Only in the Napoleonic university was an independent faculty
(1781), Kant wrote that human reasonwas overwhelmed by ques- of science created, institutionalizing the distinction between ob-
tions it could not solve. In the name of experimental philosophy, jective sciences and subjective humanities (lettres). The first few
he condemned speculative metaphysics. The philosophy of the years of the nineteenth century also witnessed the emergence of
future had to respond to a different model of truth based on a new intellectual leader: the arrogant and self-sufficient technical
geometry and mathematics. Kant's own work was an attempt to specialist. Such individuals received their education at the École
transform traditional metaphysics and bring about a revolution Polytechnique in Paris, an institution founded by the revolutionary
in philosophy, following in the footsteps of physicists and geo- Conventíon that became a model of progressive education around
metricians." Comte expressed a similar intention more than eighty the world. The technical specialist unquestionably has been the
years later in his Cours de Philosophie Positive. The main thrust most influential figure in Western culture for the last two centuries.
of positivistic philosophy was the notion that phenomena were With an infinite faith in mathematical reason and believing himself
subjected to invariable natural laws. AH intellectual enterprises educated because he had passed through difficult schools, he had
were to have as their objective the precise determination of such little or no knowledge of society, its history and problems, and
laws and their reduction to the least possible number in each despised the humanities because their content was always am-
discipline." biguous and practically impossible to formulate with mathematical
I have shown how most of these ideas and intentions were in certainty.15
some way evident in Europe since the seventeenth century. But According to Fourcy, who wrote the first history of the École
it was only after the French Revolution, when "serious" scientific Polytechnique in 1828, more than half of the rnembers of the
thinking exduded metaphysical speculation, that the intention of physics, chemistry, and mathematics sections of the Institut, as
technological domination became effective in the realm of the well as the best engineers in the country, were graduates from
physical world. Positivism was then openly extended to the social the school. The most illustrious names in all scientific and technical
sciences without a sense of guilt; later, by rejecting symbolization fields during the early nineteenth century were associated with
as a basic forro of knowledge, it particularly hampered man's the institution: Lagrange, Laplace, Monge, Fourier, Prony, Poinsot,
understanding of the true nature and importance of poetry and Lamblardie, Navier, Berthollet, Poisson, Ampére, Gay-Lussac, and
art. of course, J. N. L. Durand in the area of architectural theory and
In 1810 Delambre published his Rapport Historique sur les Progrés design.'6 The École Polytechnique prepared equally scientists and
des Sciences Mathématiques depuis 1789. This text represents the technicians, both of whom were obsessed with the illusion of a
first attempt ata history of science by mearas of a simple collection technological utopia. Evaluating the impact of the school, Cournot
of facts, without a philosophical standpoint to shape it.'3 Its pos- wrote that by giving the physical sciences their mathematical

277 Positivism, Descriptive Geometry, and Scientific Building

276 Geometry, Number, and Technology
precision (thus transforming the art of the engineer), the École
"third notebook," a revised curriculum was proposed in which
produced a revolution in industry, influencing current ideas and
architecture was not even an independent subject, but part of the
even encouraging French nationalism."
course on civil works. The obvious reasoit was eventually revealed
Fourcy had considered the École du Génie de Mezihres and the by Durand in his Précis des Lecons
École des Ponts et Chaussées as the immediate forerunners of the (1809). He pointed out that
not only were all types of engineers capable of doing architecture;
new institution. Nevertheless, at the École Polytechnique teaching
they were also afforded more opportunities to undertake large
methods were quite different. All students had to fulfill a series commissions.21
of strict admission requirements, including a written examination.
Once the rational part of building was identified with the ob-
Once in the school, they followed a mandatory curriculum de-
jectives of the new positivistic civil engineering, the specific char-
signed to provide everyone with general methods of universal
acter of architecture was reduced to decoration. And decoration,
applicability. Unlike the atmosphere of apprenticeship, which had
in the new epistemological context, was bound to be considered
been geared to solving specific problems in the technical schools
a frivolous, expensive, and relatively useless occupation. It should
of the eighteenth century, the École Polytechnique advocated im-
be remembered that Napoleon, as opposed to his predecessors,
personal lectures and the notion of required subjects, which
despised architecture and accused it of ruining the state and its
everyone had to master before specializing. This became the dom-
citizens through excessive expenditure. This, of course, was sinful
inant pedagogical idea in professional education thereafter.
in an industrial society whose values were based on economics.
Indeed, the school was created to provide a "solid and vigorous"
The Emperor mainly used engineers in his building enterprises;
mathematical and scientific foundation for individuals who wished
architects were only invited to participate when decoration was
to go on to one of several Écoles d'Application before entering
called for. Ornament became a value commodity, a consumer's
public service. The general statutes of the school stated that the
product added to the work of architecture, which otherwise was
institution would also provide a basic knowledge of chemistry
essentially the result of a simple technological process.
and the graphic arts." Having fulfilled its requirements, a student
would be in a position to enter services as diverse as artillery,
the navy, civil construction, shipbuilding, mining, or geographical The
engineering. Students had to learn not only basic mathematics The last decade of the eighteenth century also witnessed the
Functionalization appearance of a mathematical discipline in which Euclidean ge-
and algebra but the infinitesimal calculus necessary for rational of Euclidean
mechanics. Apart from physics and chemistry, the other basic ometry became truly functionalized, that is, reduced to the realm
Geometry of algebraic analysis. This was Gaspard Monge's Géométrie De-
subject was descriptive geometry, which could be applied to civil
scriptive (1795), which was studied by the students of the
engineering, fortifications, architecture, mines, machinery, and École
Polytechnique and which represented the first possibility of an
naval construction.
In the "first notebook" of the Journal Polytechnique, architecture effective and precise mathematical description of reality.
was defined as the art of designing and building works of earth, Although the use of geornetrical projections had been present
masonry, or wood, utilizing established principies and propor- in architectural design and other building techniques since the
sixteenth century, the theories of geometricians before Monge
tions.19 "Civil architecture" was divided finto two courses. Inter-
estingly, Baltard wrote only a one-page introduction to architecture, were always concerned with specifics. They lacked the inde-
which was full of vague and uncertain notions.» Lamblardie, pendence and coherence that make descriptive geometry a true
however, wrote ten pages about civil engineering and provided science, one capable of functioning abstractly and thus applicable
a detailed program of his course. to a wide range of problems," With the exception of Desargues's
Within the new school, architecture became almost a sub- maniére universelle—which was still too theoretical and never
professional discipline, with no coordinated École d'Application postulated in a sufficiently systematic way to include all tech-
for graduates seeking further academic specialization. Lidie time niques—Monge's method was the first to provide a truly synthetic
was devoted to courses on design and architectural theory. In the system that could be universally applied to all arts and crafts,
that is, to the totality of human action. Descriptive geometry thus

278 Geometry, Number, and Technology 279 Positivism, Descriptive Geometry, and Scientífic Building
constituted "a complete theory and practice of the operations that
result from the combination of limes, planes, and surfaces in
space."" Consequently, it concerned not only stonecutting, car-
pentry, fortification, and perspective but all those parts of pure
or applied mathernatics in which three-dimensional space fig-ured.
Delambre stressed that Eudidean geometry could only measure
areas and volumes "in two dimensions," while descriptive ge-
ometry was able to consider space itself mathematically.
Descriptive geometry is a mathematical discipline whose fun-
damental principies can be proven analytically. It is a tool for
reducing systematically and with absolute precision three-,
dimensional objects into "two-dimensional space." Monge be-
lieved that there was no construction in descriptive geometry that
could not be translated into algebra. In his opinion, both sciences
should be learned together, with emphasis on their interrelations.
In Géa métrie Descriptive, practical and theoretical considerations
were systematized and subsumed to a clear technological inten-
tionality. To attain truth, mathematical precision was necessary
in all disciplines. Monge also believed that a popularization of
scientific methods and outlook was imperative for the advance-
ment of industry. This would finally dispel the mystery concerning
many manufacturing processes. He perceived his own work as a
basis for the new ars fabricandi of technology, the "theory" of Y

the new breed of engineers, whose only purpose was to make

The orthogonal planes and quadrants of modem de-
production more efficient.24 scriptive geometry, which allow for the reduction of
Hence Monge stressed that "everyone should know the theory three-dimensional reality to a system of coordinates
and for their manipulation and transformation inde-
and application of descriptive geometry," whose objectives were pendently from intuition, from R. G. Robertson's De-
twofold. First, it should effect the exact representation, through scriptíve Geometry (by courtesy of Sir Issac Filman
and Sons Ltd.).
drawings in two dimensions, of three-dimensional objects that
lend themselves to rigorous definition. From this standpoint, it
was a "necessary language for all those men of genius" in charge
of either conceiving or executing a project and for all the craftsmen
that participated in its construction. The second objective was to
deduce outcomes from the exact description of bodies and their
positions (that is, their mathematical relations). In this sense, de-
scriptive geometry becomes a means of acquiring the truth, offering
"perpetual naodels" of the passage of the known to the unknown.
Monge claimed that his discipline should be included in a plan
of national education since the implementation of descriptive ge-
ometry was bound to accelerate the progress of industry."
The invention of descriptive geometry was a crucial step in
achieving a systematic mathematization of praxis; it subjected the

280 Geometry, Number, and Technology 281 Positivism, Descriptivo Geometry, and Scientific Building
arts and crafts to the goals of technology and was instrumental on a plane. According to Chasles, descriptive geometry provided
in the genesis and development of industrialism and rational the methods for solving a priori certain questions that Descartes's
building during the nineteenth century. It is necessary to stress geometry could not solve, being restricted by the limits of algebra
that the geometry of the new architects and engineers graduating itself." He explained that traditional Euclidean geometry was beset
from the École Polytechnique (and of most practicing architects with complicated figures and that lacking general and abstract
ever since) was the geometry invented by Monge. It was "the principies, it was forced to deal with each question in its con-
only conception," wrote Comte, capable of providing a precise creteness, to discover the necessary elements for a solution or
idea of the characteristic doctrines that constituted the essence of demonstration of a problem, in the figure itself. Chasles stressed
engineering." that this limitation was extremely inconvenient because of the
In his article on the teaching of geometry that appeared in complications inherent in the construction of figures, particularly
Journal Polytechnique, Gayvernon asserted that only after having in three dimensions. Relating algebraic formulations with visible
studied the application of descriptive geometry to the different objects whose parts were connected, descriptive geometry con-
arts and crafts could the architect be in a position to determine tributed enormously to the progress of algebraic analysis. Monge,
the exact form and composition of his buildings and their parts.27 according to Chasles, was thus "capable of doing algebra with
In a different volume of the same journal, Monge pointed out geometry."32
that descriptive geometry provided a knowledge of forms of the The secret of algebra is the "mechanism of transformations,"
different parts involved in all sorts of buildings, which were relative allowing it to achieve a high degree of generality. Chasles ex-
not only to the buildings' stability but also to their "decoration."28 plained that Monge's great merit was to have applied this mech-
One of Monge's disciples, M. Chasles, devoted many pages of anism to geometry, discovering a "principie of continuity" between
his Apercu Historique sur l'Origine et Développment des Méthods the volume and the plane. However, it remained for Monge's
en Géométrie (1837) tó descriptive geometry. He referred to disciples, particularly General Jean-Victor Poncelet in his Traité
Monge's achievement as "the first contribution in geometrical des Propriétés Projectives des Figures, to discuss openly this principie
science for nearly a century, being a necessary complement of of continuity, which had been tacit in descriptive geometry." The
Descartes's analytic geometry."" Descriptive geometry "initiated difficulties involved in expressing a principie that, in effect, le-
a new era" in the history of the science of extension and had galized the functionalization of the Lebenswelt were enormous;
immense repercussions. In Chasles's words, this beautiful creation the overcoming of such difficulties amounted to the acceptance
was destined originally to transform practical geometry and all of the most fundamental epistemological transformation since the
the arts that depended upon it. It was, in fact, "a true general discovery of theory in Greece.
theory, having reduced to a small number of abstract and invariable General Poncelet was probably Monge's most brilliant disciple.
principies and to a few easy and certain constructions all the He studied at the École Polytechnique and in 1822 published a
geometrical operations that might be necessary in stonecutting, N
treatise that, according to his biographers, was instrumental in
carpentry, perspective, fortification, the tracing of solar clocks, the shaping of industrial mechanics.34 His projective geometry
and other techniques that previously were only executed through held that there were certain relations of position in geometrical
incoherent, uncertain, and not very rigorous procedures.'"° figures that remained invariable before and after they were sub-
Chasles alsri recognized other profound implications of Monge's jected to a perspective projection." Some of the universal principies
functionalization of three-dimensional reality. As a graphic trans- postulated by Poncelet had already been discovered by Pascal
lation of rational geometry, it prompted considerable advances and Desargues, but were conceived as independent propositions
in the field of analytic geometry, effecting a greater familiarity and never became part of a methodical geometrical theory.
with the shapes of bodies and their ideal conceptions. The tools Poncelet wished to increase the generality of theories in the
of research in geometry were doubled. Considered as a geometrical mathematical sciences, so that their realm of action could remain
doctrine, Monge's science became an effective means of dem- under the control of the intellect." A small number of fruitful
onstration, rigorously relating three-dimensional objects to figures truths could be the abbreviated expression of a great variety of

282 Geometry, Number, and Technology 283 Positivism, Descriptive Geometry, and Scientific Building
particular facts. Poncelet's main objective was to provide ordinary infinity. Poncelet was the first to establish clearly the homology
geometry with the "character of extension" that had made algebra between two-dimensional planes and three-dimensional space,
so fecund. Euclidean geometry not only lacked generality but, in showing the way toward multidimensional, non-Euclidean geo-
his opinion, it also did not have a direct and uniform method by metries. This implied, in fact, the power to substitute the ideal
which to search for truth; it was forced to use arithmetic pro- for the real. This power of Substitution is "at the very root of the
portions with excessive frequency. In contrast, descriptive ge- crisis of Western science; it has been the source of man's profound
ometry possessed the quality of a true doctrine whose few disorientation. It is also the paradigmatic problem of modem art;
principies were linked in a necessary manner. "It is easy to realize," space became increasingly more flat toward the end of the eigh-
wrote Poncelet, "that these characteristics derived exclusively from teenth century, to the point bf allowing, in anticipation of cubism,
the use of projections."37 the disappearance of Euclidean relations among depicted objects.41
The "projective properties"—those that remain constant before After Poncelet, geometry became an independent syntactic sys-
and after a projection—constituted the true nature of figures. tem, capable even of dispensing with algebra. It was a discipline
These metric or descriptive properties or relations would neces- that no longer needed to pI ce its problems in the context of the
sarily have the greatest possible generality and indetermination perceived world-as-lived. It could avoid imagination, achieving
since they would be independent of any absolute dimension." instead a perfect logical coherence that made it ideal for tech-
Like Monge, Poncelet sought to "increase the resources of simple nological .applications. Projective geometry could now be em-
geometry," generalizing its conceptions and restricted language, ployed effectively in the resolution of problems of statics and
assimilating it into analytic geometry. His main contribution was strength of materials. This was proved in the methods of Culmann
to provide adequate general means for demonstrating and dis- and Cremona, which appeared in 1866 and 1872, respectively.
covering easily the projective properties possessed by figures,
when considered in a purely abstract manner, apart from theix
real determinate dimensions.39 Building Science Around the beginning of the nineteenth century, technology be-
Applying the principie of continuity, Poncelet was able to es- carne the modus vivendi of man; human action (the traditional
tabiísh a synthetic geometry with universal methods. Figures, techniques) became totally "serious," rejecting its traditional di-
which in Euclidean geometry were treated as qualitatively different mension of existential play. It might be said that at this point
entities, became members of a "family," with a potential for re- externa' reality lost its divine character and was reduced to matter,
ciprocal transformation. Now figures consisted of the constant and thus it finally carne to be dominated by mankind. The ar-
relations among their parts. Henceforth, purely formal consid- rogance, anguish, and correlative responsibility of architects, en-
erations would define the essence of all geometrical figures, ig- gineers, and techniciarts of the nineteenth century contrasted with
noring their primordial relation to the visible world. From this the general tranquility and self-confidence of their predecessors.
point of view, projective geometry became a prototype of Western Also, the intention to reduce architectural theory to a simple set
nineteenth-and twentieth-century thought, and its appearance of fixed rules, whose primary objective was a more efficient and
marked the beginning of the crisis of European science. economical practice, was finally brought to fruition in the early
In Euclidean science, a diverse interpretation and deduction nineteenth century. With the development of the new geometries
corresponded to each difference in sensuous appearance. For and their application to military engineering, stereotomy, car-
Poncelet, however, each individual forra was to be examined not pentry, and working drawings in general, sufficient precision was
in itself but as part of the system to which it belonged and as an achieved to guarantee the success of these theories ín practica'
expression of the totality of forms into which it could be trans- problems.
formed." Desargues had already noticed the similarity between The work of Jean Rondelet represents an excellent example of
an infinite straight line and a circle. But Poncelet declared that this transformation of theory into a technological tool. He had
all the points projected to infinity on a plane could also be ideally been commissioned by Soufflot to finish the Pantheon, after de-
considered as being part of a single straight line itself placed at fending the projected dimensions of the building against the ob-

284 Geometry, Number, and Technology 285 Positivism, Descriptive Geometry, and Scientific Building
jections of Palie. In his Mémoire Historique sur le Déme du Panthéon (which had been determined by structural necessity, convenience,
Francais (1797), Rondelet expressed the same interests and tech- and an appropriateness of use), he deplored the fact that great
nical knowledge found in the works of his contemporaries. He modem masters like Palladio or Serlto, "captivated by the art of
assumed an approach similar to Gauthey's, giving greater im- drawing," had only perpetuated the dassical orders in their trea-
portance to the quantitative resulto of experimento made with a tises, dealing with proportions but providing no guide with respect
device of his own invention—apparently the first device actually to the science of construction."
capable of providing sufficiently precise r. esults." Rondelet's ob- Rondelet observed that only during the eighteenth century were
jective was the solution of structural problems by means of a these "difficult abstract questions" considered. After Poleni's dis-
scientific method, one that would eschew intuitive considerations. cussion of St. Peter's dome and Gauthey's commentary on the
In his description of Soufflot's building, he dealt almost exclusively French Pantheon, it became increasingly clear that "the essential
with materials and building procedures. The mathematization of objective [of architecture) was, aboye all, the construction of solid
the theory of construction obviously implied in his thought a buildings, using a just amount of selected materials with art and
greater and more effective control of diverse techniques. Rondelet economy.' 47 Rondelet claimed that the perfection deriving from
taught stereotomy in the new École Speciale d'Architecture, which the In of construction "excited our admiration" and that it em-
was founded after the suppression of the Royal Academy. Between bodied "the first degree of beauty in a building" by simply being
1794 and 1795 he also participated in the Direction de Truvuu.x. a guarantee of its longer endurance. He defined the art of building
Publics. And in 1789 he presented a paper that was responsible as "a happy application of the exact sciences to the properties of
for the formation of the École Centrale de Travaux Publics, which matter. Construction becomes an art once theoretical knowledge
would later become the École Polytechnique.43 is joined with that of practice to regulate equally all its
Rondelet's extensive Traité Théorique et Pratique de l'Art de Batir operations.""
(1802), which provided methods for solving all sorts of practical Theory, for Rondelet, was the result of experience and reasoning,
problems through the application of easy, step-by-step tales, was founded on the principies of mathematics and physics. Through
the first truly effective textbook on building science. It became the application of theory, a good builder should be able to de-
extremely popular and went into many editions. In his intro- termine the correct farm and dimensions of any part of a building
duction, Rondelet provided a historical account tracing the "prog- by its situation and the load it has to support. Rondelet stressed
ress" of the building craft. His interest was exclusively fírmitas— that only such buildings would be well proportioned, solid, and
the solidity, stability, and durability of buildings—and only from economical. Only through theory could a builder explain the nec-
this point of view did he pronounce judgment on the different essary procedures for the execution of a certain work. But, as
periods in a history of architecture that he conceived of as a linear Rondelet emphasized, the knowledge of principies and experience
process, as the evolution of rational construction. From this un- should be joined with the knowledge of practical operations and
precedented vantage point that would become the basis of nine- the nature of materials in order to be effective. His treatise was
teenth-century architectural history, he criticized, for example, written with this in mind: to put forward a theory conceived as
Egyptian architecture for having been concemed only with "im- a powerful and universal instrument for the thorough domination
mutable solidity" and because once it had reached this objective of the building craft. Within a positivistic Framework, myth and
("mainly through instinct"), it had never gone beyond it." nonscientific speculation were unacceptable. For the first time in
Like the Rigoristti, Rondelet rejected Greek architecture, criti- a book on building, the transcendent justification of architecture
cizing the transposition into marble of forms derived from wood. no longer mattered. Intended meaning